McALLEN — Ashleigh Lopez has seemingly always been a part of the Rio Grande Valley’s bustling basketball scene.
Whether it’s been as an official, head or assistant coach or player in her younger days, Lopez has been inseparable from the hardwood.
Now, the Valley’s hoops trailblazer will be stepping into uncharted waters after recently becoming the head coach of the Valley Horned Frogs, who will play their inaugural season in the Evolution Basketball Association (EBA), as well as the first female head coach of a men’s semi-professional basketball squad.
“As a little kid growing up, my dream had always been to be the first female men’s basketball coach in the Valley,” Lopez said. “At that time, my goal was to be the first female boys varsity coach in the Valley, so it’s always been a goal that I set myself and I told myself I’d do whatever it takes to reach that goal through adversity and the status quo, which is that this is a man’s job and it’s a man’s world.”
“So is officiating, and I did three years of varsity officiating here in the Valley before I stopped to continue focusing on coaching, but I think I was able to stay determined and motivated,” she added. “I knew that it would pay off one day through encouraging and being a role model for younger girls to look up to.”
Lopez, who aims to help the Rio Grande Valley’s top men’s basketball players forge a path forward for their hoops careers through her coaching, hopes to do the same for the RGV’s pool of high school and college women’s hoops stars.
“I know that there are a ton of females and males that aspire to be a coach one day,” she said. “It’s easier for men than it is for women, so I think being able to step into this spot at such a young age will be able to show that if I can do it, they can do it as well.”
Due to difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Valley Horned Frogs have yet to officially sign any players, giving Lopez free reign to pick the best players in attendance at the organization’s open tryouts in the near future.
“We do not have anyone on the roster yet; we’re going to let tryouts completely dictate that,” Lopez said. “I have a feeling that there’s going to be some great talent at this tryout because of some of the names that have signed up (so far) and where they’re coming from.”
Players rarely get to pick the coaches they play for, and the Horned Frogs situation is no different.
What is different, however, is that everyone who makes the Valley Horned Frogs’ inaugural roster will likely be playing the first games of their basketball careers under the guidance of a female head coach.
Lopez hopes her players will give her the same chance she’s giving to them.
“I think it’s very important, especially given what the organization stands for: giving guys from the Valley opportunities outside the Valley. It’s the same concept,” she said. “I think that being a woman in sports, in general, is a big deal right now, and I wish it was sort of normalized because we’re humans just like men are. We have the same capabilities that a man does.”
“A lot of people will overlook a female when they step into a role like this, and at some point, some women are going to be better than some men at this job,” Lopez added. “I think it just comes down to inspiring and knowing that anything is possible.”
More than anything, though, Lopez is looking forward to making her long-awaited return to the basketball court, her home away from home.
“This journey has definitely been exciting. It’s still super surreal to me,” she said. “There’s days that I wake up and I know we’re one day closer, but it just feels like it’s going to take forever to come. I will be the first female head coach in the league we’re playing in, so that’s been super exciting as well. It’s been butterflies all day every day.”