Eugene, Ore. -- When you're a high school athlete, finding the right fit for where to play at the next level is everything. You want a place where you can not only succeed on the court but enjoy your four years wherever you are.
If you looked at NCU freshman Aspen Slifka's high school accomplishments, you'd think her recruitment was about finding the best team in the country to play for. But to her, it was about more than that.
"I had so many people come up to me after every game and after classes and stuff and just asking about how I'm doing and how basketball's going and just the real community aspect of it reminds me of home and that's been really nice."
Home for Slifka was two hours up the road at Banks, where she was one of the best players in Oregon 4A history. Slifka was a four time 4A All-state selection, two time Cowapa League defensive player of the year and two time player of the year. She was also a McDonald's All-America nominee and was in contention for Oregon Prep Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Despite the gaudy numbers and honors, Slifka stayed true to what she watned out of a school: small, home town feel, close to her family and with the chance to contribute on the floor right away.
"I looked at a couple of D1 schools but I really wanted to stay on the west coast, kind of close to home," Slifka explains further. "My family is really close so I really wanted to have them close to home to support me. So yeah, I wanted to stay localish."
"That was somebody that wasn't committed and I was shocked," says her coach Chad Meadors. "And we jumped on and right away this was, I think we were something Aspen was looking for."
It wasn't just the atmosphere of NCU itself that made the 5'11 guard feel at home. The city of Eugene, being somewhere bigger than what she was used to, gave her a feel of getting out of a small town, while still maintaining those intimate relationships that a place like NCU could provide. Then Meadors and his team, whom so often makes mention of their closeness and chemistry, made the decision an easy one.
"What really stuck out to me was how much of a personal relationship [Coach Meadors] wanted with his players," Slifka says. "We're not just players to him. We're all a family here."
"It takes an army of people to get one person through college and one college athlete through college," Meadors follows up. "And so that support is tremendous and we're able to give it in a unique way."
It also helps that Slifka was able to come in and play right away. Her first handful of games were met with modest results until a 25 point explosion against Corban in December. From there, some stumbling blocks and frustrations, which Meadors says is more due to teams starting to take notice of her skillset.
"People know she's a good player," says Meadors. "So they're trying to take things away. And learning to accept that they're taking things away and then trying to go to something else is challenging, it's difficult."
Even with teams putting more effort towards defending the 5'11 freshman, Slifka's game has continued to improve as CCC play has started. Since December 21st, she's only scored less than double digits twice, and has four games in which she's scored 20 or more, with a career high of 30 already notched. With just six games left until the postseason, Northwest Christian women's basketball is hoping for a strong finish to the regular season and an even better postseason in CCC and NAIA play.
"One of my top things I was looking for was to impact the team as a freshman," mentions Slifka. "I don't like sitting out. I like to have a part of the team and really be able to contribute to the success of the team."
And in the pursuit of an NAIA National Tournament berth, it all comes back to family in the end. When asked if this team has become a second family, Slifka responds quickly and affirmatively.
"That was huge for me because coming from a small town, community is everything and a lot of people in Banks, we're all really close so just having that family aspect again was really nice," she says.
Meadors says that her ceiling is that of an NAIA All-American. For her part, Slifka has already played herself into the record books at NCU, reaching the top 5 in Beacons single-game points and tied for 3rd in both single-game 3 pointers made and attempted. And as she continues to grow inside and outside the walls of the Morse Events Center, there may be some accolades still to come for Aspen Slifka.