MONTICELLO — Ashley Long landed the biggest role of her high school performing arts career when she was cast as Sophie Sheridan, a leading character in the musical “Mamma Mia!”
In addition to choreographing Monticello High School’s version of the musical, Long served as a central cast member for its March 5-8 runtime.
The following week, the COVID-19 pandemic began in the United States.
“I’m really hoping that ‘Mamma Mia!’ wasn’t the end of my performing career,” said Long, now a Sages senior. “I don’t want it to be, because it’s something I’m very passionate about and I love.”
Regardless of when she can perform next amid the pandemic, Long’s turn as a lead woman on the stage may have been preparing her for a similar role in athletics.
Even though Long describes theater and golf as “kind of opposite ends of the spectrum,” she excels in both.
She’s proven that in performing arts by rising from ensemble member to lead.
And she’s shown as much on the course by improving from a News-Gazette All-Area second-team selection as a junior to girls’ Golfer of the Year one season later.
Long established new school records in nine-hole average (40.8) and nine-hole score (33), with the latter mark also breaking Lake of the Woods Golf Course’s women’s nine-hole record.
After winning the season-opening Blue Ridge Invitational, Long went on to place seventh in the daunting Illini Prairie Conference Tournament, take medalist honors in the Class 1A Charleston Regional and secure seventh place during the 1A Rochester Sectional.
The last of those achievements would have, after a couple near misses, qualified her for state.
But it wasn’t meant to be, with the pandemic causing the IHSA to cancel that round of play.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t get to have a state tournament,” Long said, “but I can’t complain too much. I got a whole season.”
Long’s work on the stage and her efforts on the golf course don’t tend to conflict too much.
She still finds ways to stay involved for Monticello’s annual fall play, according to performances director Nicki Graham, even with the golf season actively ongoing. Long also typically is a football cheerleader in the fall, though that wasn’t an option this year because of the pandemic.
“She always jumps in and helps with set things” Graham said. “She came in last year and did the spotlights for us. Even when she isn’t able to be on the stage, she always volunteers her time to help with the production in some way.”
Long couldn’t have realized she would perform this balancing act when she initially got into stage work.
She first acted in a musical during the third grade. It was an adaptation of “The Little Mermaid Jr.”
“I was in the ensemble. I was a seagull,” Long said. “I still have the little hair clip and stuff. I loved it.”
Long estimates she’s been in 20 plays throughout her life. The most impactful, she said, was “Mamma Mia!”
That’s not only because she finally received her chance as a high school lead, but also because this was the Sages’ debut show in their new auditorium. It’s where Long opted to have her Golfer of the Year photo shoot and interview.
“Outside of the golf course, the auditorium is my second home,” Long said. “Our program had been really strong for a long time now, and it was just awesome to get to have that new space to showcase our talents.”
Long also was a competitive dancer from 3 years old through middle school. So when Long arrived in high school, Graham gave Long the chance to help choreograph performances.
“Ashley’s just been really great about coming up with creative ideas for big dance numbers, small group numbers,” Graham said. “At practices, other kids get a break. She doesn’t get a break because if she’s not (on stage) she’s working on choreography, teaching kids who were absent or who didn’t get it the first time around. She will sacrifice anything to make the show the best it can be.”
Her selfless approach to performing arts matches how she looks at golf.
“The biggest crossover would be teamwork,” Long said. “Even though golf is an individual sport, learning a part in the musical is also an individual thing that you have to do. You know your cast relies on you, and you know your teammates rely on you any time that you’re on stage or you’re on the golf course.”
Long proved more than reliable on golf courses around the state during her four years on Monticello coach Andrew Turner’s team.
Long’s family moved to the city just ahead of her ninth-grade year, so she wasn’t sure what she was getting into when she joined Sages golf. Turns out she was instantly the girls’ No. 2 golfer, behind then-sophomore Molly Stringer.
“She is probably my favorite person to play golf with,” Stringer said of Long. “She always has a smile on her face and might even be the most positive person I’ve ever met.”
Long and Stringer both advanced to a Class 1A sectional as individuals during their first season together. They went on to help Monticello to team sectional berths in 2018 and 2019.
“Really getting to know Molly, I think last year especially, it was just awesome getting to go out there,” Long said, “and when we got to play together we were just always supportive of each other.”
Long forged a similar relationship this year with fellow Sages senior Claire Webber.
“She and I both had our best rounds whenever we played together,” Long said. “It was her career low the same day that I broke the school record.”
Turner feels both Stringer and Webber made a positive impact on Long — Stringer in being a role model whom Long could try to emulate on the course, and Webber in being a calming influence when Long might be too critical of herself.
“Ashley has a very positive attitude, no question. It’s enthusiasm,” Turner said. “Sometimes Ashley is too hard on herself. She had to learn to say to herself, ‘I can still be a great teammate, but I can be good to myself, too.’”
Beyond the mental and emotional aspects, Turner saw potential greatness from Long simply by analyzing her swing when she was a freshman.
“A lot of kids … have a decent backswing but don’t finish through. She kind of had the whole thing,” Turner said. “She took the club away correctly, came through correctly and finished really nice. You could see hers was really complete at a young age.”
Once Long’s physical strength increased and her club selection became more polished, she was off and running.
“She was playing her best golf of her career,” Turner said of Long’s senior season. “She was primed to have a great performance at state.”
Long desires at least one more performance in her high school arts career.
She’s preparing for Monticello’s annual madrigals event, at which she and other students dress in Renaissance attire and sing in that theme as attendees enjoy dinner. But Long isn’t sure if that or a spring 2021 play can occur because of the pandemic.
She’d enjoy taking her stage talents beyond the Sages’ realm, though she has other priorities as well.
“I am interested in pursuing an economics degree right now. I don’t know what university, but I’ve been reaching out to some college coaches,” Long said. “I’m just looking to find the right academic fit for me and then hope I can play golf from there.”
Graham was thrilled Long got her moment in the sun in “Mamma Mia!” after previously being an ensemble player but still contributing heavily to choreography and scenery decisions.
“It was a breakout for her,” Graham said. “I heard from many people who watched the show — they thought the whole show was great. They loved the dancing and spoke out about how impressed with Ashley they were.”
That seems to be the case with Long’s exploits across the board. It’s a product of her approach to anything on her packed calendar.
“My senior year, I really found what I am passionate about and what I really enjoy coming to school for,” Long said. “What makes it exciting to get out of bed every morning.”
Honor roll: Previous All-Area girls’ Golfers of the Year
YEAR ATHLETE SCHOOL
2020 Ashley Long Monticello
2019 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More
2018 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More
2017 Alaina Bowie St. Thomas More
2016 Mia Hayasaki Champaign Central
2015 Mia Hayasaki Champaign Central
2014 Emily Trolia Mahomet-Seymour
2013 Courtney LaFoe Salt Fork
2012 Brooklyn Hildreth Mahomet-Seymour
2011 Sierra Myerscough St. Thomas More
2010 Lizzy Dombroski Centennial
2009 Lizzy Dombroski Centennial
2008 Katie Jean St. Thomas More
2007 Katie Jean St. Thomas More
2006 Jenna Dombroski Centennial
2005 Kim Bailey Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley
2004 Kim Bailey Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley