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Bears' Ashurst parlays rise into college tennis roster spot

By Cody Thorn
Special to The Examiner
William Chrisman senior Kiara Ashurst smiles during the Bears' match against Truman Tuesday. Ashurst has verbally committed to Bethel College, making her the first Chrisman player to earn a college tennis roster spot in some time.

Even at a young age, Kiara Ashurst displayed some of the natural ability to play tennis that made William Chrisman tennis coach Jason Grubb suggest she focus on the sport.

Ashurst, in junior high at the time, was only playing basketball but found a love for the new sport and now is a four-year varsity member for the Bears.

Another title was recently added to her resume: future college player.

Ashurst made a visit to North Newton, Kansas, two weeks ago to tour Bethel College and left with an offer from coach Gabe Johnson and quickly committed to the NAIA school.

“It was a dream of mine to play in college but I didn’t think it would actually happen,” said Ashurst, who plays No. 2 singles for William Chrisman. “It was always a way-off-in-the distance thing that could happen. I am really that good for it? I think I proved myself wrong. It’s a huge weight off my shoulder.

“It is an amazing school and they have an amazing tennis program. I’m so ready to play for them.”

She will become the first Bears player in quite some time to head to college with a scholarship in hand, though Nick Hurt walked on at Northwest Missouri State and Lindsay McDonald County did the same at Southwest Baptist in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Johnson, who coaches both the men’s and women’s team at Bethel, started recruiting Ashurst last year and kept in contact through the school year and even during the downtime that came during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other coaches emailed Ashurst but none showed interest in getting to know her, which helped make her pick the Threshers.

Concordia University in Seward, Neb., and Hollins University in Baltimore, Maryland, also showed interest in Ashurst and made her short list – a big deciding factor in the final three was schools that offered a registered nurse major.

She was set to visit the school in August, but a COVID-19 outbreak postponed the trip for two weeks. Ashurst missed the team’s match against Blue Springs South on Sept. 2 to make the trip to Bethel.

While she liked the school she was a little hesitant how she would be accepted due to a giant new tattoo – that covers most of her left thigh – at a school affiliated with the Mennonite Church.

It turns out many other student-athletes there have them as well, so that was a relief to her because she wants to add more ink.

Her tattoo is part of a family tradition of sorts. Her dad, mom and older brother all have tattoos with a snake and Kiara added hers when she was 17. It features a snake, as well as peonies and leaves and it took nine total hours spread over three sessions and a “lot of money” to complete. 

Ashurst will head to Bethel in the top five all-time in wins at Chrisman. She has 35 singles wins and 48 doubles wins as of Tuesday, Sept. 15 – which is fourth all-time in school history. Teammate Tori Gant is ahead of her, but Ashurst can catch 2020 graduate Nicole Eppert for second place with a good close to this season.

Ashurst has been attending William Chrisman tennis camps for six years and then put in extra time doing lessons and playing in the summer to improve her game.

“Kiara is an amazing woman; she’s confident, driven and bright,” Grubb said. “Off the court she’s an excellent student and a selfless human. On the court, she’s a ferocious competitor and team leader. Watching her mature into the women she is today is one of the greatest honors of my coaching career. We are hopeful for continued success the rest of the season along the way to a third conference championship and we’re determined to get her and her teammates into the state tournament and past the district semifinals which has haunted us the past two years.”