The fire inside: Ashley Kaufman, a three-sport star at Lake City High, is headed to college to play volleyball — but she’s pretty good at softball and bowling, and in the classroom, too

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  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Lake City High senior Ashley Kaufman is pretty good with a ball in her hand — whether it be a softball, a volleyball or even a bowling ball.

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    Ashley Kaufman of Lake City High celebrate a point during Thursday night’s match against Post Falls. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

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    LISA JAMES/Press Ashley Kaufman of Lake City pitches against Meridian during the 6th inning of the first of their 5A State Championship games at Coeur D’Alene High School on Friday. Lake City won 8-2 to advance to the next bracket.

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    Courtesy photo Ashley Kaufman, left, of Lake City qualified for state all four years of high school placing second her freshman year, third her sophomore year, second her junior year, and now first her senior year. At right is LCHS coach Ron Jacobson.

  • LOREN BENOIT/Press Lake City High senior Ashley Kaufman is pretty good with a ball in her hand — whether it be a softball, a volleyball or even a bowling ball.

  • 1

    Ashley Kaufman of Lake City High celebrate a point during Thursday night’s match against Post Falls. (LOREN BENOIT/Press)

  • 2

    LISA JAMES/Press Ashley Kaufman of Lake City pitches against Meridian during the 6th inning of the first of their 5A State Championship games at Coeur D’Alene High School on Friday. Lake City won 8-2 to advance to the next bracket.

  • 3

    Courtesy photo Ashley Kaufman, left, of Lake City qualified for state all four years of high school placing second her freshman year, third her sophomore year, second her junior year, and now first her senior year. At right is LCHS coach Ron Jacobson.

Looking for someone to come up with the kill to wrap up your volleyball match?

Set the ball outside to Ashley Kaufman.

Need someone to step up in the circle and help you knock off your longtime softball rival?

Hand the ball to Ashley Kaufman.

How about someone to come through with a clutch strike with a state bowling championship on the line?

Leave it up to Ashley Kaufman.

Need a ride to somewhere around town after school?

OK, maybe you might hesitate to hop in the passenger seat when Ashley Kaufman is driving.

But not because Kaufman — a senior and three-sport standout at Lake City High, is a bad driver. She’s just a little unlucky.

However, as a combination of volleyball player, softball pitcher, bowler and student at Lake City, well ...

“She might be one of the best who’s ever come through the school,” said athletic director Jim Winger, who has been at Lake City since the school opened in fall 1994.

OTHER TESTIMONIALS ...

“A once-in-a-blue-moon type of athlete,” said Mike Summers, her volleyball coach with the Timberwolves the past two seasons. “The stuff she was able to do was just amazing.”

“‘A.K.’ is obviously a fierce competitor; one of the most competitive people we have ever had on our softball team,” Lake City softball coach Jesse Lenz said. “She’s just a driven kid that doesn’t come around that often.”

On the outside, Kaufman doesn’t show a lot of emotion. But on the inside ...

“Even though she’s stoic on the outside, there’s a competitive fire that burns pretty deep inside,” Summers said.

“She’s got a fire inside her,” said her bowling coach at Lake City, Ron Jacobson. “You don’t see it much on the outside, but inside her ... yeah, she’s competitive.”

One of the toughest situations Kaufman faced in her Lake City career was deciding which sport she wanted to play in college.

Eventually she decided to sign a letter of intent to play volleyball at NCAA Division II Central Washington University in Ellensburg. Kaufman also had an offer from Alaska-Anchorage, and had interest from others including Western Colorado University in Gunnison and Western Oregon University in Monmouth. She had also attracted D-I and D-II interest in softball.

“It was a really hard decision,” said Kaufman, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter. “They (volleyball and softball) were tied as my favorite for the longest time, and it got to the point where I just had to choose one. My gut basically told me that I wanted to do volleyball.”

Why?

“Probably because I’d been around it the longest,” she said. “It was the first thing I started doing with my mom. It’s the one I enjoyed the most.”

BORN AND raised in Coeur d’Alene, Kaufman remembers tagging along as a youngster as her parents, Rick and Jennifer, played slowpitch softball in town. And her mom also played rec volleyball, where Ashley got her introduction to that sport. Both parents were multisport athletes in high school — Rick in Ohio, Jennifer in Missouri. Rick joined the Air Force shortly after high school.

Ashley’s brother, Travis, played baseball at Lake City, graduating in 2017.

She’s played all three sports for a dozen or so years — Travis starting bowling a couple years before Ashley, and along with academics, that became another form of sibling competition.

“A lot of my talent came from (my parents), and my drive, my competitiveness,” Ashley said. “I’m very passionate on the inside, but I try to keep a straight face (on the outside), show no emotions.”

In volleyball, Kaufman helped the Timberwolves to a runner-up finish at state in 5A as a junior, and a third-place finish as a senior.

As a senior, she averaged 3.83 kills per set, which adds up to roughly 12 kills per match — not bad, considering Lake City swept nearly all of its matches in three sets during the regular season. She also totaled 213 digs, 59 aces and 22 blocks.

She was a four-time all-league selection, and also made a number of all-state and all-state tournament teams in volleyball.

“The last two years she did an amazing job from the service line,” Summers said. “An all-around player, pretty solid defender in the back row.”

Kaufman started out in volleyball as a libero/defensive specialist — which would help explain why she’s such a good defensive player today as well. Then, at a club volleyball practice around age 10, her team, coached by Nicole Rayborn, mother of longtime teammate and current T-Wolf junior Janae Rayborn, was short an outside hitter for a practice. Kaufman took a few swings out there that day, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“She’s smaller as an outside hitter by some standards, but she sure makes up for it with how hard she hits,” Summers said.

Playing next year at the Division II level, “Her size isn’t going to be as important,” he said. “She jumps, she’s a hard hitter and she’s certainly smart enough. She has more in her bag than just pounding; she knows placement, and where to put the ball in certain situations.”

AS A freshman in softball, Kaufman played on a Lake City team that, heading into the regional tournament, had lost 11 straight games to Coeur d’Alene.

“We had a plan,” Lenz recalled. “We kinda hid A.K. from Coeur d’Alene until the district title.”

Lenz put Kaufman in the circle for the title game, and she struck out seven and hit an RBI double in Lake City’s 7-2 victory over Coeur d’Alene.

“I felt a lot of pressure from myself, there wasn’t much pressure from the coaches,” Kaufman recalled. “But I knew that I had to do my best for the team. It was kinda stressful leading up, but I knew I could do it.”

Two years ago, Lake City finished second at state, to Eagle, on a Sunday due to rain. Last year, the third straight year rain delayed the tourney, the Timberwolves tied for fifth.

This year, Lake City is off to a 16-0 start (8-0 in the 5A Inland Empire League), wrapping up the top seed to regionals with four league games remaining. Kaufman is 12-0 with an 0.65 ERA, with 87 strikeouts and just 6 walks in 54 innings pitched. She’s batting .600 (27 for 45), with 3 homers and 19 RBIs.

“I tell you what; she is dialed in this year,” said Lenz, in his fifth season as T-Wolf coach. “For someone who has signed to play a different sport, we didn’t know what we were going to get from her. We expected the best from her, but dang, we are just pleased with what she’s showing this year, and how motivated she is for softball. It’s just awesome to see her excel.”

LAST YEAR, during softball season, Kaufman pulled up to a stop sign in her Toyota Corolla — but the driver behind her didn’t, and plowed into the back of her car, causing her to hit her head.

A couple months ago, driving home from school in a Jeep Wrangler to get ready for softball tryouts, she pulled out onto Ramsey Road. A motorist trying to leave the parking lot at Lake City Church across the street was unable to stop on the still-slick surface. He hit Kaufman’s front right tire, which spun her around into a snowbank. She ended up hitting her head against a window, and she suffered a small gash on her forehead, as well as a bruise.

“Just bad luck,” Kaufman says of her wrecks.

“Yeah, I’ve had a couple say that (they don’t want to ride with me),” Kaufman said with a laugh.

The other day, Lenz wanted Kaufman to take some ground balls with the team prior to the game — and she promptly took a grounder off the shin, causing another bruise.

Through the years, Kaufman has suffered a couple broken fingers from volleyball, two sprained ankles last year in volleyball, and a dislocated shoulder from softball, from pitching too much.

Plus the two head injuries from the car crashes.

“I’d like to wrap her up and put her in a bubble and just let her walk around,” Lenz said with a laugh.

THE MOST recent car accident came just before the state bowling tournament, when she was spun around in her Jeep.

“She had a mild concussion,” said Jacobson, a math teacher at Lake City. “And she came up to me in one of the matches, right before the finals, and goes, ‘I can’t see the lanes very well; I’ve got blurry vision.’

“I said, ‘You’re probably getting excited, you need to get your blood pressure down,” Jacobson said. “Just sit down, calm down, breathe slow, go up, throw your shot, come back, sit down ...

“But she fought her way through it, and she just kept making strike after strike after strike ... it was amazing for her to be able to even compete at that level, dealing with a concussion.”

Kaufman went on to win the state title in girls singles.

Jacobson, who bowled at the University of Idaho, said Kaufman is good enough to bowl in college if she wanted to — even though that’s her “fun” sport.

A year or two ago, in a youth league at Sunset Bowling Lanes in Coeur d’Alene, Kaufman flirted with a 300. She started off with 10 straight strikes — then left the 10 pin on ball No. 11. She completed the spare for a 289.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” she recalled. “Once you got to about the fifth strike, you could just feel the pressure. You had to keep your cool, but it was very nerve-wracking. I started shaking when I was up there. And once I would get up there to bowl, it was like silent, because everyone was watching you.”

On that 11th ball, she left it just a little light.?

“I thought it was (a good ball), and then I looked down the lane and there was still one pin standing up, and I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me?’” she said.

In addition to this year’s state title, she placed second as a junior and freshman, and third as a sophomore in girls singles.

Her score in the girls finals the past two years would have won the boys finals.

In the team competition, she competed on the Lake City boys team at state, and helped Lake City finish fourth.

KAUFMAN, A near-4.0 student, wants to be a forensics detective. If not that, perhaps something in sports medicine, or sports psychology. Like her high school and longtime club volleyball teammate Klaire Mitchell, a former ballerina, she did dance (ballet tap) for a few years growing up (“Definitely helped with my balance and agility,” she said). She also played basketball up until her freshman year.

“I chose basketball over dancing, and then I chose volleyball and softball over basketball,” Kaufman said. “I’ve had a good support system behind me through it all.”

Lenz likes to joke with her that he’s going to put in a call to the Central Washington softball coach on her behalf, in the event there is a way the Wildcat volleyball and softball coaches can “share” her.

“She’s just a special, special athlete that doesn’t come around that often,” Lenz said.

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