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Big Dawg is barking

Deans hits milestone as Mustangs’ senior leader

Correspondent file photo / Robert Hayes Mathews senior Ashley Deans brings the ball upcourt for the Mustangs. Deans, who goes by “Big Dawg” among her teammates, reached the 1,000-point mark for her career this season.

Big Dawg Deans. The nickname is written in big letters on a sizable white banner in Mathews’ colors on the east end of the Mustangs’ nostalgic gymnasium named “The Shoebox.”

Although Mathews senior Ashley Deans wears red and black on her uniform, it’s her love for the brown and orange that led to her moniker.

“I’m a big Browns fan, so when they started doing the ‘Dawg Check,’ I would get all my teammates to bark and I’d say, ‘Dawg Check,’ and then we’d all bark,” she said. “And then they started calling me Big Dawg, so I just kind of rolled with it and I think it’s cool, and I think it’s funny.

“It’s a nice kind of trademark I can leave here when I graduate.”

Similar to the Cleveland Browns, Deans also made history this season.

On Feb. 3, at Maplewood, with 6:05 remaining in the second quarter, she approached the charity stripe needing one point to hit quadruple figures in her career. Her free throw hit nothing but net and the game was paused with a banner honoring Deans being brought out to recognize her.

“Just getting that milestone, knowing that it’s just a really good signifer to know that all of your hard work has paid off in all four years,” Deans said. “And it’s a feeling like no other, that’s what I’ve told everybody.”

The four-year starter has set a high bar for the program, and first-year coach Steve Sponsler views Deans as someone who is a role model for the underclassmen.

“She’s always there, she put the effort in, she’s a good leader,” he said. “I mean they call her Big Dawg, so they’re like little puppies. They call her Big Dawg, they definitely look up to her without a doubt.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic wiping out the beginning portion of the season for Trumbull County teams, it wasn’t the senior season that Deans or anyone else envisioned. Despite the adversity, she’s tried her best to become a mentor to a Mustangs team that features nine underclassmen.

“It’s incredible to know that kids look up to me, I know that when I was that age, even coach Sponsler’s daughter (Paige), I really looked up to her and all of the girls that played before me,” Deans said. “And it’s incredible to know that I can be that person now because of how hard I’ve worked and what I’ve done on the court and just what I show them every day.

“As a senior, I was really, really bummed at first, and then I just kind of decided that I was just going to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time, and just enjoy every single second.”

One-thousand points was a personal goal that Deans was eyeing all season long.

“It’s great to a kid that can score,” Sponsler said. “Ashley puts a lot of work in, she works hard, so she deserves it, and I know it was one of her personal goals so I’m happy for her.”

After graduation, Deans plans on attending Youngstown State to major in exercise science, but before that, the Mustangs have some business to take care in the postseason tournament.

They’re the 18th seed in the Division IV bracket, and will face off against Springfield or Lordstown on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Deans said that she thinks the Mustangs are going to go growling into the postseason.

“I think that our scores might not show it, but we’re a team that’s going to come and get you if you don’t watch out for us,” she said. “I think that if we play with the same intensity we played with (in our home finale against Bristol), we’re going to give anybody a fight.”

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