RICHMOND, Va. – You can tell how badly Richmond native Ashley Pegram wanted to play at VCU by the way she talks about it. A smile advances on her face as the soft-spoken sophomore describes the experience in glowing terms. It’s almost emotional.
You can tell how badly Pegram wanted to be a Ram the way she talks about the time it almost didn’t happen. During her sole, outstanding season at Chesapeake Junior College in Maryland, Pegram caught the attention of then-VCU Head Coach Marlene Stollings. It seemed like a perfect fit. But after the season, Stollings, the Rams’ fiery second-year coach, accepted a job at Minnesota. In the wake of Stollings’ departure, Pegram became uneasy as she contemplated her future.
“That really discouraged me,” she said. “Right when I signed, I found out they were leaving.”
It didn’t matter that Pegram had recently finished a season in which she averaged better than 23 points per game and was named a Junior College All-American. There was uncertainty. Beth O’Boyle was hired to replace Stollings. Pegram wanted to be at VCU, but would O’Boyle reciprocate?
“When she called, it was a relief to know that they were still going to try to recruit me,” Pegram said.
When O’Boyle assured Pegram she’d have a place on VCU’s roster, the former prep star was overcome with joy. It was where she wanted to be all along.
“It was one of the best feelings of my life,” Pegram said. “I just felt like my dream came true. I was so excited.”
It’s been a feel-good moment for VCU as well. The 5-foot-8 guard and former Meadowbrook High School star has been a welcome addition. The sophomore, whose speed matches up well with O’Boyle’s desired up-tempo attack, has become a starter and is averaging 9.3 points per game. She’s also third on the team in steals.
Pegram’s offensive skill set, which includes a capable midrange skill set, has helped the Rams, who are looking to transition to a more balanced attack following the graduation of Robyn Parks, weather what has been a transitional period.
You can tell how bad Pegram wanted to be a Ram by the way she prepared for it. She’s been able to not only adapt from the junior college level, but to become a valuable rotation player because she was physically ready from Day One. Most freshmen spend weeks building their strength and endurance – the requirements are so much different at the Division I level – but Pegram was in great shape already because she says she took the workout plans the VCU staff gave her so seriously. In high school, she barely lifted weights. At Chesapeake, there was some weight training, but nothing like VCU’s strength and conditioning program. In the weeks leading up to her return to Richmond, she made sure to hit the weights every other day. On the off days, she ran.
Despite her fitness, Pegram expresses a level of amusement at her rapid transition.
“Actually, I’m surprising myself a little bit,” she admits. “I didn’t think I would catch on as fast as I did, but it’s going pretty good. I’m proud of myself for my first season here.”
You can tell Ashley Pegram really wanted to be a Ram by the way she approached her first college season, one she spent in another school’s uniform.
Although Pegram was the Central District Player of the Year as a senior at Meadowbrook, she says she didn’t have a single Division I scholarship offer. Rather than settle for less, Pegram decided to develop herself at the junior college level. It was a decision that paid off because she made the most out of her year in Maryland.
That season, she says, her life revolved around a set of singular ideals. She wanted to get her academics in order, and she wanted a Division I scholarship offer.
“I can honestly say I had a good experience,” she says. “I was so focused on just going there for one year. That was my main goal. My main focus was to stay on top of my grades and work hard so I can get ready for the Division I level.”
Pegram says she spent the season as a gym rat, and as a result, shredded defenses and helped lift Chesapeake to a 25-5 record. Chesapeake, she says, offered few entertainment options outside of basketball.
“I stayed in the gym at Chesapeake. There was nothing around there to do. I had no choice but to go to the gym,” she says.
The fruit of those labors was interest from a host of Division I schools, including Old Dominion, Marshall, East Carolina…and VCU. While East Carolina was able to give Pegram pause, the pull of VCU was strong.
Pegram played a number of games at the Siegel Center during her high school and AAU careers. She’d dressed in the same VCU lockerroom that is now a refuge.
“I always thought that VCU was a nice school and right around the corner, so I was like, why not be able to play in front of my family and get a good education,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like where they’re from, but I actually like Richmond and the area that VCU was in, so that was always a dream school. It just fits me.”
You could tell the how much it meant to Pegram to play for VCU by the way she felt when she slipped on that uniform for the first time. It was, she says, a surreal moment.
“It was one of the best feelings of my life. I just felt like my dream came true. I was so excited,” she said. “When we got our practice gear and stuff, I still didn’t believe that I was at VCU. I was just in a daze a few times in the lockerroom. Then it finally hit me after the first few games.”
It hasn’t been a perfect season, Pegram says, but much like her year in junior college, it has been a period of continued growth. She likes the way her game is progressing and says the VCU staff has helped her improve in the way she handles adversity. In the past, Pegram says, she was often so hard on herself, that she let one mistake spiral into two or three or four.
“[Now] I get this thing in my head where I just say, ‘Next play. Next play.’ I try not to look back on it,” she says.
She looks at her career in similar terms, focusing on what’s ahead rather than what is behind. A basketball season is often a rollercoaster ride, but Pegram, who is majoring in criminal justice, takes comfort in the opportunity to play in front of familiar faces. It’s a short drive for her parents to attend home games and plenty of other friends and family have filled the stands over the course of the season.
“It’s awesome. It’s a great feeling. I know my parents are going to be at every game. It’s great. I felt like at had the whole community [at our first home game], and it also helps to know that, not just for me, but for the team, that it’ll bring out more fans to the games,” she said.
It took a bit of a circuitous journey to get here, but there’s little doubt Pegram is enjoying her first season as a Ram. Some things you can just tell.