Cameron’s Van Tassel and Wheeling Park’s Bordas named co-winners of Mary Ostrowski Award

After a season in which both athletes captured state titles for their team, dominated in the regular season and state tournament and were named captains of their respective all-state squads, Cameron’s Ashlynn Van Tassell and Wheeling Park’s Alexis Bordas are both recipients of the Mary Ostrowski Award, given annually to the state’s top girls basketball player by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association, as 2024 Co-Players of the Year.

Van Tassell, a senior, is a three-time all-state first-team player and one-time all-state second-teamer. She appeared in four state title games in her career with the Dragons, winning the gold in her last three seasons — helping Cameron become the first public school to three-peat in Class A girls basketball history.

Van Tassell averaged 19 points and 13.3 rebounds per game this season, leading the 23-5 Dragons in both categories and playing Cameron’s full slate of games just three months after undergoing meniscus repair surgery.

Cameron’s Ashlynn Van Tassell has been named the winner of the 2023-24 Mary Ostrowski Award, sharing the honor with Wheeling Park’s Alexis Bordas. (Photo Provided)

“This means a lot, especially in my senior year to win the Mary Ostrowski,” Van Tassell said. “I think I showed that I deserve it, I’ve really worked hard — getting ready this summer after tearing my meniscus, getting back to the game and then showing what Cameron can do to get three straight championships.”

Bordas, a junior, is a three-time all-state first-team player and was awarded the 2022-23 and 2023-24 West Virginia Gatorade West Virginia Girls Basketball Player of the Year award.

Bordas is honored as a Mary O recipient for the second straight year as well, joining Fairmont Senior’s Marley Washenitz (2021, 2022), Huntington’s Jordan Dawson (2016, 2017), North Marion’s Mariah Byard (2010, 2011), Capital/South Charleston’s Alexis Hornbuckle (2002, 2003, 2004), Morgantown’s Julie Wheeler (1992, 1993) and Parkersburg Catholic’s Mary Ostrowksi herself (1977, 1978, 1979) as multi-time Ostrowski award winners, which was known as the R.A. Thorn award until 2012.

Bordas led the Wheeling Park Patriots to their second straight championship game this season and helped the Patriots capture their first title since 1999.

Bordas averaged 23.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the 25-4 Patriots.

“That’s a great honor, especially to share it with (Van Tassell), she’s an amazing player,” Bordas said. “I grew up playing against her and playing with her and she’s an awesome player and I’m happy for her too. It’s a huge honor, especially after both of us won state championships. It means a lot and I’m very thankful for everyone who voted for me, all the sportswriters.”

Both players dominated the competition on their way to state titles, and though they did it in different ways — Bordas a 5-8 wing and Van Tassell a 6-3 post player — they shared a passion and work ethic that made them both successful.

“Her dedication to the sport, how hard she works, how hard she wants to win,” Cameron head coach Holly Pettit said of Van Tassell’s best traits. “Being a team player, being coachable, just everything about her makes her a great kid.

“She’s always been a competitor. I know when she was younger she got criticized a lot for being too rough just because of her size. That has followed her all the way through to now, but she has no bad intentions — she plays basketball, she’s out there to win and her size hasn’t hurt her at all. Just because she’s 6-3 doesn’t mean that she can’t get up and down the court. There’ve been times in practice where she’s the first one done in a sprint, she’s outrunning our guards.”

“It’s just her work ethic,” Wheeling Park head coach Ryan Young said of Bordas. “She obviously puts in a lot of time, and she’s very disciplined as a player as far as her approach to the game, her approach to practice, what she does in the offseason. She’s a very focused, driven individual. When you have a kid like that and then you add the talent on top of it, you get the product that you see.”

The Patriots’ and Dragons’ stars have each received all-state recognition every year since getting to the high school ranks but entering this most recent season, both showed their refusal of complacency by adding to their already-formidable games 

“Definitely developing outside the post,” Van Tassell said of the additions to her repertoire this year. “Being able to help my team outside of the paint, developing some more ball-handling skills, getting my teammates more involved, and just having fun.”

“I think I definitely added to my mid-range game from last year in the state championship game to this year,” Bordas said. “I started liking to score from mid-range more and I worked on that to be a three-level scorer. Then, my ball-handling and being able to create a shot for myself off the dribble and getting myself open, because I know teams are going to faceguard me every game, that’s probably what I improved on the most.”

While they attacked different physical components of their game, they both also grew in maturity on the basketball court.

“I honestly think that she played a lot more relaxed this year,” Pettit said of Van Tassell. “I think in previous years she was worried about playing at the next level, who she needed to impress, what she needed to do to get to the next level. With her signing (at Youngstown State) over the summer, a lot of pressure was off of her shoulders and she was able to play a little more relaxed this year and not worry about messing up or coaches not wanting her.”

“I think she definitely became a little more disciplined as far as her shot selection,” Young said of Bordas. “We talked about how she could eliminate a couple forced ones, and trust that the ball is going to come back to her. I think she really responded to that because if you look at her numbers, she actually took less shots this year but averaged three more points a game. That tells you that she was more efficient and I think that was the one great thing about Lex — she’s very coachable. You tell her anything that you need her to do, she’s going to respond.”

The pair’s seasons were defined not by their improvements for the start of the year though, but where they stood at the end of the season– and how they played to get their teams to the mountaintop.

Van Tassell abused opposing teams in her three state tournament games, putting up stat lines that were akin to the tall tales and black-and-white footage of basketball legends of old — 29 points and 25 rebounds against Pocahontas County in the quarterfinals, 28 points and 30 rebounds against James Monroe in the semifinals, and 14 points and 19 rebounds in a state championship victory over Gilmer County.

“It just kind of happened,” Van Tassell said of her state tourney performance. “Usually our guards are making more outside shots but in the state tournament, it seems like nobody shoots well. Being there for the rebounds and putbacks — missing some bunnies padded my stats too.

“None of this happens without my teammates and without us playing team ball. The award is more ours than mine.”

After scoring 28 points in her own state quarterfinals game, Bordas made state tournament history in her state semifinals outing vs. Huntington — scoring a Class AAAA record 38 points with eight 3-pointers, also a record. Bordas followed that up by leading her team in scoring once again in the state title game against Morgantown, scoring 22 in a 65-51 victory.

“Her performance against Huntington was remarkable, but really for the whole tournament it was really special,” Young said. “She obviously loves it down there, it’s everything she works for, and she delivered. That’s what she did for three days. She’ll be the first to tell you her teammates had a lot to do with it, and I think we really did come together as a team this year and were able to take that final step this year.”

“I definitely went into it super focused on doing whatever I could to help my team win,” Bordas said. “Winning a state championship is all I’ve wanted to do during my three years I’ve been here. Whether that was facilitate, score, rebound, I ended up breaking those records just because I was so focused.”

Both Bordas and Van Tassell were named Tournament MVPs in class AAAA and A, respectively.

It was one more honor among many that the pair have found themselves linked by, the two’s history going back to growing up on the same AAU scene.

“She’s a year older than me,” Bordas said. “So I was never on her official team. But we both played for West Virginia Elite, so just seeing her at tournaments, watching her play, and sometimes I would play up and play against her for different teams. As we got older, we’d work out together, do some individual sessions or group sessions and we’d be there together.”

The two crossed paths once more in the regular season, Park beating Cameron at home 78-64, the Patriots acting as one of multiple tough opponents the Dragons put on their schedule this year.

Cameron played up to schools in larger classes like Park, Huntington, Wayne, Wheeling Central Catholic, and Spring Valley, in addition to scheduling out-of-school opponents like Union Local (Oh.) and Norwin (Pa.).

“When you’re putting up the numbers that she does and plays like she does — this year she felt like she was deserving of those awards,” Pettit said. “And one of the reasons someone might say she didn’t get the Mary O last year was because she didn’t play against enough competition. You know, she was putting those numbers up but who was she putting them up against? Fast forward to now, I don’t think anyone can say that about this year. When she’s putting up big numbers against big schools, I don’t see how there could be any reason why people could say that this year.”

Van Tassell leaves Cameron as the all-time school leader in scoring and rebounding, marks she set at different points through the regular season. She committed to Youngstown State this past summer and leaves the Dragons with a fabled career behind her.

“Super excited for her to go and play (in college),” Pettit said. “In my five years of coaching, I’ve never had a player go and play in college. I’m excited to see what she does, I think she’ll do well there and I’m excited to get to go and watch her.

“I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s part of the reason that Cameron basketball is on the map. I’m super excited for the things to come for her and I’m so glad she ended her Cameron career like that.”

Bordas became the fastest player in Park girls basketball history to reach 1,000 points last season as a sophomore, and after another year of accolades, a state championship, and multiple player of the year awards, the Park star has fit a rarified career into just three years.

“She’s accomplished just about everything you can as a high school player,” Young said. “It’s pretty remarkable what she’s done, but like I said she’s a very driven kid, she’ll come up with another goal.

“She’s approaching the school record for scoring and I’m sure that’s next on her list as far as what she wants to check off. It feels like she just walked in the door but now she’s getting ready to walk out the door. I think she realizes time is precious, she’s got one year left and she’s going to continue to do what she’s done since she walked in the door.”

Bordas said she currently anticipates making a decision as to where she will attend college this August.

“Ultimately we want to help her get ready for the next level, wherever that will be, playing college basketball,” Young said.

Van Tassell is Cameron’s first Ostrowski award winner, while Bordas joins KeTara Lee (1999) and Dee Davis (1980) as Wheeling Park recipients.

Both honorees will be recognized at the 77th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 5 at River City in Wheeling.

By NICK HENTHORN/For the WVSWA