Paul Valencia: Basketball players strangers, then rivals, now teammates

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter



Kelsey Asplund’s college coach asked her if she knew anybody else with basketball skills, some height, and no place to go next year.

Asplund, a senior at Prairie who signed with New Mexico Highlands University in November, had one person in mind.

Not a friend, but a foe. Well, at least a foe on the basketball court.

“I hate playing against her,” Asplund said, referring to Battle Ground’s Haley Grossman.

That can be the highest of compliments.

Grossman’s play and her relentless drive on the court can give fits to opponents. When Asplund said she hated playing against Grossman, she really meant she respected her game.

Soon after that conversation, NMHU found video of Grossman on the internet, then made contact with Grossman.

Starting this fall, two athletes from Battle Ground, who played at different high schools, who did not know each other at all, will be roommates, and teammates, in the college town of Las Vegas, New Mexico.

“It’s crazy. I owe it all to Kelsey,” Grossman said. “I’m super grateful.”

Asplund, as you might know, helped Prairie to the Class 3A state championship. Grossman led Battle Ground to the 4A bi-district tournament, only to miss the final few games after tearing a knee ligmment. The Tigers missed going to state regionals by one game.

For years, Grossman had been preparing herself to be a college athlete — in soccer.

“I never even considered going to college for basketball until this year,” she said.

A 6-footer, Grossman got burned out on soccer and focused on her new passion.

Still, she was stunned to hear from the NMHU coaching staff. Grossman was honest.

“I’m excited but I know nothing about your school,” she recalled saying. “I don’t have any idea how you got a hold of me.”

The coaches told her of Asplund’s assessment of her game, how it all worked out.

“OK, but I was overwhelmed in a sense,” Grossman said.

While Grossman was recruited by coaches she did not know based on a reference from someone she only knew of, Asplund’s recruitment to UNM-Highlands also was out of the ordinary.

The Cowgirls did not recruit Asplund. She recruited herself.

“I had a couple schools looking at me, but I wasn’t loving what I had,” Asplund said.

So she went to Google and entered into the search bar: “Sunny. Division II. Nursing Program. Basketball.”

About 30 schools popped up. Oh, and she wanted a college with a football program. Then she sent e-mails with game video of her, asking coaches if they would mind taking a look.

NMHU coaches liked what they saw and reached out to Asplund.

Asplund went for her visit last fall. The coaches put her through a conditioning drill. Oh, did I mention the campus is close to 6,500 feet elevation? Yeah, it was grueling, but Asplund passed the test.

“I feel like they were trying to scare me away,” Asplund said. “They wanted to make sure I could do it.”

The coaches liked her fundamentals and offered her a scholarship.

Asplund, a smidge over 5-10, had to play out of position as a post for the Falcons. Her coaches promised her she would not spend one day at post in college. Done deal!

Because of her injured knee, Grossman did not go through the workout when she went for her visit.

“I just fell in love with the place,” she said.

Grossman is off crunches now and expects to be cleared for full participation by October.

Basketball-wise, both players feel they have found the place for them. But Asplund also confirmed there was one more reason she told her coach about Grossman.

“There were no blondes on the team,” Asplund said. “I was stoked I found another one.”

Hey, whatever works. Asplund was aggressive, found herself a school and a scholarship, then referred one of her toughest opponents.

Just like that, two basketball players who live just a few miles apart in Southwest Washington are going to New Mexico Highlands together.

Paul Valencia covers high school sports for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4557 or e-mail at