By Jean DePlacido, Salem News
Jen Ashton of Beverly is packing her bags to fly to England to begin a new and exciting venture playing professional basketball for the Sheffield Hatters.
The former Panther and Westfield State star will be one of two American players on the Hatters, which is the first women’s basketball team in England that was founded in the early 1960’s and is the most successful in the country. The Hatters have dominated women’s basketball in that country since the early 1990’s, winning many national titles and cups.
Ashton was born in England and has dual citizenship which is a big plus. She lived in England until she was five-years old.
“I was about to start school,” said Ashton. “My mother, who is American, wanted me to go to school here. I have a few memories of my times there, but not many. I went to a professional showcase and tried out for a few different teams. Sheffield offered me a contract based on the tryout and my college career. It seemed like a good fit and is located about an hour north of Manchester.”
Thinking about trying to continue her career after college, Ashton found a great option: “Previously I had gone to Germany and was told there were opportunities in Finland or France, but England is perfect for me because there is no language barrier. I won’t have the trouble of adjusting to a foreign language so it won’t be hard to fit in.”
Sheffield has teams ranging all the way from U10 to U18 along with the women’s pro team. Ashton plans to arrive in late August with practices beginning on September 2. She will be busy from that point on until playoffs conclude in May.
“When I was over there trying out Sheffield was in the semifinals,” said Ashton. “The coach (Vanessa Ellis) is also an assistant for the national team, and there’s the opportunity to play for her on the national side. I’m excited about the chance to play internationally. In November the national team will travel to Australia to tour. We’ll have to see how it goes, but I’d love to do that.”
In England, everything is combined with a pro league for women and a college program. Some teams like Sheffield have strong ties with the local University. The Hatters have three girls who are in college and play both for the Sheffield University and pro teams. Ashton said every country is different, but in England each team can only have two Americans on the roster.
Sheffield will provide housing for Ashton and pay her to play at the American rate which is better than what the English players make.
“I can get a job if I want to, but I don’t have to because I won’t be paying for travel or food,” she said. “I might try to get a part-time coaching job for one of the lower level teams if I want to buy a car. I’m undecided but will see how it goes.”
After starring at Beverly High, Ashton put her name in the record books at Westfield State. As an Owl, she scored over 1500 points to finish second on the all time list. As a senior she ranked in the top 10 inn the country in Division 3 in both steals with over four and assists with six per game.
The 5-foot-six guard is a complete player, who was also very accurate from the free throw line with an 87.2 percent. She played for coach Andrea Bertini, who is from Salem.
“I really liked Westfield State, but was disappointed we never made the NCAA tournament,” said Ashton. “I wound up on the all-time scoring in second place by just one basket, but even in high school shooting was not my first priority. Anyone will tell you I pass too much.”
After graduating the elementary education major with a concentration in math, worked as a paraprofessional at Beverly High and was the JV basketball coach under Panthers head coach Seth Stantial. Last year she accepted a position as assistant coach at American International College in Springfield.
“AIC went to the NCAA’s so that was exciting,’ she said. “I didn’t get there as a player, but did as a coach. It’s nice to get back to playing again. I’m in pick up games three or four times a week and last year I played in the Danvers Women’s League. I also get together with some of my former AAU friends.”
Continuing her playing career is an exciting development. Her experience in the guard position should be a plus for her new squad.
“In Sheffield I expect to have more of a point guard role and passing will be my first responsibility; get the ball up court and set up somebody,” Ashton said. “I love to play defense and steal the ball. I’ve been lucky to have a knack for the ball and coaches say I have a strong basketball IQ. I can tell what will happen before it actually does, and I use that to my advantage.
“I know this will be a big change for me, but it’s something I’m excited about playing professional basketball, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”