Athlete of the Week: Hockman grows into leader on and off court for Rams

Ashleigh Hockman Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Ashleigh Hockman does the dirty work on the court for Strasburg High School’s volleyball team.

As the Rams’ libero, her role isn’t glamorous. She isn’t soaring above the net to unleash a thunderous kill, or dishing a pass to set one up, or piling up aces from the service line. Instead, Hockman is asked to put her body on the line to ensure that the ball doesn’t touch the floor.

That job suits the Strasburg senior just fine, though.

“I take so much pride in my bruises,” Hockman said before the Rams took on visiting George Mason on Tuesday evening. “My hips get busted and they’re (cut) open and I’m like, ‘Mom, look! I got another one!’ And she’s like, ‘Stop, stop.’ She always wants me to get hip pads and I’m like, ‘No, I’m OK.'”

Hockman doesn’t just take pride in the beating and banging she takes during a typical volleyball match. She enjoys it, she said, adding that the role “definitely fits my personality.”

That’s likely why she’s one of the area’s top producers in digs as the regular season approaches its final week.

“She’s just not afraid to hit the floor,” Strasburg head coach Suzanne Mathias said. “She’s not afraid to go after the ball. And a lot of it is the pride. She’ gonna give it her all – practice, game, whatever, she’s going for it. If she can get to it she’s gonna get hands on it. If she has to hit the floor, run into the bleachers, whatever, she’s gonna do it. That’s just Ashleigh.”

And perhaps just as much as she enjoys the physical demands of her position, she also embraces the intangible responsibilities that come with being the Rams’ defensive specialist.

Hockman loves the fact that she gets to “control the court,” she said, and that she’s given the green light to push her teammates on and off the court as one of the Rams’ team captains.

It’s that leadership ability that could very well be Hockman’s greatest contribution to a young Strasburg squad that has spent most of the season trying to find its footing.

Hockman, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Athlete of the Week for Oct. 9-15, did not play in either of the Rams’ two matches last week, but her leadership did not take a seat even as she was limited to the sideline with a concussion.

“She’s just constantly talking, in practice and on the court,” Mathias said. “She was out Thursday (at Rappahannock County) with a concussion, she still was on the bench talking and trying to lead them and tell them what to do, just keep them in the game.

“She talks and if they’re doing something wrong she tells them. She’s probably one of the truest captains I’ve had as far as trying to hold people accountable and trying to handle things on her own before coming to me.”

It’s that ability and willingness to lead that both Hockman and Mathias said has been the former’s biggest area of improvement since Hockman joined the varsity team as a sophomore in 2015.

“It’s just something I’m very proud of because I was very in my shell during my JV years and I got to grow into that, and I got to experience it with the team I have,” said Hockman, who added that there is some pressure that comes with being the vocal leader of a team that has been plagued at times by lack of communication.

“It’s really hard because (my teammates) don’t listen to me all the time, so that part is hard. But they still thank me and they’re like, ‘You’re doing something for this team,’ and that’s really encouraging for me.”

That leadership from Hockman and fellow upperclassmen on the team helped fuel Strasburg to a much-needed sweep of Central on Oct. 10. The Rams entered the match on a four-game losing streak that included three consecutive sweeps, and Hockman said the team broke down in tears in the locker room before the game as players laid out the need for Strasburg to come together as a team.

“We weren’t working as a team before then, so we really worked it out after that and we were like we have to win,” Hockman said. “We had to do that for Mathias. We felt like we owed it to her. We felt like she was losing hope in us and we wanted to regain that.”

The Rams (7-10 overall) have since dropped two more matches but Hockman said she’s hopeful Strasburg – which has three regular-season contests left – can re-establish some of those good vibes in time for the postseason.

“I’m really hoping that we can pull it out, like we can just work as a team constantly. Practice has looked a lot better. We had to have a talk and we had to just break it all down and get it all out, and I think once that happened we really came together and we were like, ‘We have to do this, if not for us then for coach.'”