Watch AU game here

Ashland University’s Final Four game against Glenville State will tip off on Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EDT in the NCAA Division II women’s basketball tournament. The game can be viewed at this link.

ASHLAND — She is still a relative newcomer to the collegiate coaching fraternity, but Ashland’s Kari Pickens couldn’t look more at home on the bench.

After all, coaching is in Pickens’ DNA.

Ashland’s fifth-year head coach was selected the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division II Coach of the Year late last week. The top-ranked Eagles (35-0) will play fourth-ranked Glenville State on Wednesday in the Final Four at St. Joseph, Missouri.

In five seasons, Pickens has a career record of 140-15. Her .903 winning percentage ranks second to Robyn Fralick (.972) among the 13 coaches in the 56-year history of the AU program.

Kari Pickens and AU Fans

Pickens spent five seasons on the bench as an assistant to Fralick, who is currently the head coach at Division I Bowling Green State University, and AU legend Sue Ramsey.

Pickens played her final two seasons for Ramsey, leading the Eagles to a national runner-up finish in 2012 before winning it all the following year. She was selected the WBCA’s Division II Player of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

As important as both Ramsey and Fralick were in Pickens’ evolution as a coach, the most influential mentor in her life was her mother.

Caroline (Mast) Daugherty was the head coach at Warsaw River View High School in Coshocton County from 2003 to 2009. In six seasons, she led the Black Bears to a 132-16 record and back-to-back Division II state titles in 2006 and 2007. She orchestrated another Final Four appearance in 2009 before stepping aside.

Before she was a state-championship coach, Caroline Mast was one of the greatest players in Ohio high school history. She was a two-time Class AA All-Ohio first-teamer for River View in 1981 and again in 1982 and led the Bears to their first state title in 1982.

Mast would go on to star at Division I Ohio University, where she scored 2,449 career points. She was a three-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year, a two-time All-American and the only woman in OU history to have her jersey retired.

“My mom was an incredible basketball player. I really wish they had more film and highlight videos of her,” said Pickens, who, along with older sister Kristin, starred on River View’s state championship teams in ’06 and ’07. “It was incredible playing for her. She always pushed me to be my best and she is still one of my biggest cheerleaders.

“She and my dad (Bill, a Wilmington College Hall of Famer) are at almost all of our games, so I’m just really thankful.”

Does mom have any advice for her in advance of the national quarterfinals?

“Bless her heart, she always tells me, ‘You’ve got this. You know what you’re doing,’ ” Pickens said. “Still, it’s always nice to bounce ideas off her. She coached for a really long time and I don’t care if it’s at the high school or college level. A coach is a coach and she knows how to handle different situations, so I definitely go to her for certain things.”

Pickens’ older sister, Kristin, was Ohio’s two-time Associated Press Division II Player of the Year at River View before graduating in 2007. She went to the University of Dayton, where she scored 1,498 career points from 2007 to 2011.

Two years younger, Kari led River View to the Final Four in 2009 before following her sister to Dayton. She scored 389 points in two seasons with the Flyers and was selected to the Atlantic 10 Rookie Team as a freshman.

She transferred to Ashland to play for Ramsey following her sophomore season.

“I became a Christian my freshman year of college and that is something that became very important to me in my life,” Pickens said. “I wanted to play at a school where there were more resources for me to grow. Ashland had that and Coach Ramsey was a big part of that.

“I came here because her faith was really important to her and she taught me that that is OK. My faith can be really important to me and you can vocalize those things. That is one of the things I’m most thankful for. She gave me a lot of confidence in that regard.”

After graduating from AU, Pickens played professionally for a year in Perth, Australia. She averaged 21.1 points and 11.1 rebounds a game and was the Lakeside Lightning’s MVP before returning to Ashland to begin her coaching odyssey.

Ramsey stepped down after leading AU to a Midwest Regional runner-up finish in 2015, clearing the way for Fralick. With Fralick at the helm and Pickens by her side, the Eagles won a second national championship in 2017 and reached the championship game again in 2018.

One of the stars of those AU teams was a forward from River View High School named Andi Daugherty, Pickens’ younger sister. Andi Daugherty scored 2,015 career points, fifth on AU’s all-time scoring list.

Fralick was AU’s head coach for three seasons, compiling a record of 104-3 before accepting the head coaching position at Bowling Green in 2018 and clearing the way for Pickens’ who was AU’s associate head coach in 2017-18.

“I’ve had some incredible mentors. All three of those women (her mother, Ramsey and Fralick) are Hall of Fame coaches,” Pickens said. “Robyn was one of the most impactful people in my life because she knew me from the time I turned 20 until I was 30. She was there with me, walking alongside me during my 20s.”

Given Pickens’ coaching pedigree and success at the Division II level and Fralick’s seamless transition from Division II to Division I — Bowling Green was 29-6 after pounding Green Bay in the second round of the Women’s NIT Monday night — it would come as no surprise if Division I programs came calling.

Not to worry, AU fans.

“I love it here. Pretty much my entire family is within an hour of Ashland,” Pickens said. “It’s really hard to find that support system in college coaching. I pretty much have a mini-army watching and it’s really special to be able to have that support.

“I was able to play at the Division I level and I played overseas. Nothing I have experienced compares to the environment we have here in Ashland.”

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