After five years apart, sisters Ashley and Sammy Van Sickle have reunited on the basketball court.
The Ralston Valley High School alumni are closing out their collegiate basketball careers together at Colorado School of Mines. They celebrated Senior Night Feb. 18, where Sammy recorded a double-double and Ashley had seven assists and three blocks.
Sammy is a fifth-year Mines player, and Ashley transferred this year after five years at Montana State University, using her final year of eligibility to play with her sister again.
“It was always kind of a joke that I had an extra year, and Sammy and I could go play somewhere,” Ashley said. “ … We thought maybe we could go to another D1 school together. But this is Sammy’s home, and this is where she belongs.”
Ashley has made it her home too, saying Mines is a special place for their family. Their grandpa Gordon Van Sickle played basketball there, and their uncle Scott Van Sickle is a former Mines track star and current assistant coach.
The reunion didn’t go quite as planned, as Ashley was injured the first half of the season and only started playing in January. But now, the sisters said, they’re “finally in a rhythm” with each other.
They’re hoping for a deep postseason run to make up for lost time, with Sammy saying, “We’re just enjoying the moment and trying to extend it as much as possible.”
Mustangs and Orediggers
The sisters played lots of sports growing up, both together and individually. Dad Brent Van Sickle said they first played soccer at the YMCA when they were 4 and 3, respectively, and later branched out to basketball, track and swimming.
The sisters said they even went to Coach Pryor Orser’s basketball camps at Mines, and Sammy attended the Orediggers’ soccer camp as well.
Growing up, the two were always competitive with each other because of how similar they were in age and athletic interest, they described. But, as sisters and teammates, they developed a sense of each other’s mannerisms, thought processes, strengths and weaknesses.
Once they reached Ralston Valley, the two played basketball together and proved valuable assets for the Mustangs.
In 2017 — Ashley’s senior year — Ralston Valley went 24-2 overall, won the Jeffco 5A League championship, and advanced to the 5A Great 8 at the state tournament.
As a McDonalds All-American nominee, Ashley was heavily recruited by Montana State and other schools, saying it was always her dream to play D1 basketball.
So, she headed to Bozeman, Montana, where she found an amazing community of coaches, teammates and friends.
At Montana State, Ashley played in 111 games over four seasons. She had a medical redshirt her junior year, and ended up with an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, Sammy graduated from Ralston Valley in 2018. Brent said she had “a one-track mind about going to Mines,” and Sammy said it’s because she always loved engineering, math and science.
As a three-year letterwinner in soccer, Sammy initially wanted to represent the Orediggers on the pitch. But, through the recruiting process, she connected with basketball coach Brittany Simpson and joined the women’s basketball team.
“Sammy is someone that we’ve built our program around,” assistant coach Leslie Seymour said. “She’s poured so much into us, and to watch her grow as a player and as a person has been indescribable. And then, I feel like adding Ashley this year is kind of the icing on the cake.”
After Ashley decided to join Sammy at Mines, she said the Orediggers welcomed her with open arms. She’s enjoyed her time with the program, playing with her sister and being closer to her family.
When Ashley first moved back, Sammy recalled going to the gym and shooting hoops together, saying, “It was so much fun… We didn’t have that for so long.”
They scrimmaged over the summer, starting to rebuild the on-the-court chemistry they had in high school. They said they’ve developed a good sense for the other’s movements, shot selections and pace.
Since recovering from her injury, Ashley’s had a good amount of playing time with her sister. During the Feb. 18 Senior Night game, Sammy scored a trey with Ashley assisting. The sisters said those moments make their hearts “feel so full” and remind them of why they play.
“We were super-competitive growing up, and we’re still competitive now,” Ashley continued. “But, we definitely figured it out and learned to celebrate each other, and be there for each other as well.”
Seymour described how the Van Sickles have a special bond that goes beyond the basketball court. There’s a different level of accountability, friendship and support between them, she said, adding, “Seeing them play together, there’s nothing like it. It’s just special.”
Brent has noticed an evolution in their dynamic, saying that Sammy used to be the Robin to Ashley’s Batman. Now, the roles have reversed, he described.
Seymour wished Ashley would’ve joined the program sooner, saying, “(Ashley) plays the game with so much joy. … She was given the opportunity of an extra year, and she really plays that way.”
Beyond the court, the sisters are preparing to graduate with master’s degrees in engineering and technology management. Sammy has a transportation engineering job lined up, and Ashley hopes to teach at a local elementary school.
But, the Van Sickles hope the Orediggers have a long basketball season left. Mines ended the regular season 22-5 overall and 18-4 in conference play, falling just short of the 2023 regular-season title.
The Orediggers received the No. 2 seed in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference tournament, and were scheduled to host a first-round game against the Colorado Mesa Mavericks. If Mines wins, it'll advance to a semifinal game March 3.
Depending on their performance in the conference tournament, the Orediggers could be a top-ranked team in the NCAA Division II tournament later this month. The Van Sickles and their teammates are hoping to end their season at the NCAA championship in Dallas.
The Van Sickle family thanked Simpson and Mines for giving the sisters a chance to play together, and Ashley and Sammy thanked their parents for attending all their games this season.
The sisters said they’re “enjoying the moment,” for however long it lasts.