March 1, 2023 

How injuries helped Santa Clara’s Lexie Pritchard and Ashlee Maldonado grow on and off the court

The two guards for the Broncos battled through season ending injuries a year ago to lead Santa Clara

By the time most college basketball players’ careers end, they will have created memories that will last a lifetime and made amazing friends. Some of those friends will be just from their time at the university but their closest friendships will be with the teammates they played with. While most teammates have a great bond, some have something occur to them that helps create an even stronger relationship. Santa Clara guards Lexie Pritchard and Ashlee Maldonado went through this exact situation, rehabbing through season-ending injuries together and becoming even better friends in the process.

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Pritchard and Maldonado both hail from the northwest part of the United States, Pritchard from Oregon and Maldonado from Washington. Even before coming to Santa Clara, they had a connection; they’d played against each other on the AAU circuit. Pritchard played for Team Fast, while Maldonado played for Sage Rush Hoops. While they don’t remember who has more wins against the other, they definitely remember playing each other.

Pritchard is a year ahead of Maldonado, starting her career at Santa Clara in 2018 versus 2019 for Maldonado. While they both weren’t looking for the same thing when deciding where to go to college, they both wanted somewhere close to home, with good academics and a place that would challenge them. Santa Clara checked all those boxes for the two guards.

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Early in their careers, both saw some time on the floor but were behind some talented guards and had to wait their turn to see the floor. During the 2020-21 campaign is when both really saw their roles grow. They started 22 of 25 games together in the COVID-shortened season and helped Santa Clara to a 14-11 record and a fourth-place finish in the WCC. Their time playing behind some great guards helped prepare them for this larger role.

Ashlee Maldonado shoots a floater against Saint Mary’s. Photo Credit: Don Jedlovec/Santa Clara Athletics.

“Looking up to them and obviously they’ve been through the college experience,” Maldonado told The Next. “They’re both great basketball players and especially in the position of point guards, which I was recruited as. I think that I saw them at their peak at their year what they were they have been in that program for so long and how successful they have done and kind of taking that leadership role of being a point guard on the floor being the floor general for them. I think for me, I learned and saw those things and would implement that in my four years being here.”

Heading into the 2021-22 season, the two looked to play even bigger roles for the Broncos. However, the basketball gods had other plans for the pair as both suffered injuries that would end their seasons. Maldonado suffered a torn ACL in the Broncos’ final exhibition game last year while Pritchard played four games before a hip injury got progressively worse and she needed to have surgery to repair it. Just like that, their seasons were over.

Many players who suffer season-ending injuries don’t have teammates to go through the struggles of surgery and rehab with, but that was one advantage Pritchard and Maldonado had. They were already roommates, so it helped them have someone to talk to about the process. For them, it was nice to have someone to sympathize with and celebrate the little victories with.

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Both also felt the injuries helped them better understand who they were as people. The time on the bench showed them how valuable every moment and possession is and how easily they take it for granted when they don’t have it. It also showed them a different perspective of the game and helped them better see it.

Lexie Pritchard goes for a layup against BYU at the Leavey Center. Photo Credit: Don Jedlovec/Santa Clara Athletics.

“I learned so much. So, Ashlee and I were roommates too; we kind of were going through it at the time,” Pritchard told The Next. “I think it’s just when you’re out, you learned so much by yourself, but you also learn so much about the game and your teammates and you just see basketball from a whole other perspective. It kind of just showed I think my will to want to get back and I think about my love for basketball grew a lot, when something is taken away. But I feel like I grew so much as a person and a leader. I think just being able to help my teammates and having a different view and then translating that into now and how just kind of being able to dissect the game a little bit better and understand myself a little bit better and just our team, I think has helped a lot.”

The two of them spent a lot of time together last year at practice on the sideline as they recovered from their injuries. While they weren’t on the same rehab schedule, Pritchard and Maldonado would chat about where they were in the process and support each other. They also tried their best to be leaders for their teammates even though they weren’t on the floor.

As this season approached, both were excited to get back on the court. They both were cleared to play in the preseason, and each came off the bench in Santa Clara’s first game of the season against UC Santa Barbara. In fact, at the 6:36 mark of the second quarter, the two of them checked in together. Pritchard had already been in the game during the first quarter, but that moment was the first time since March 8th of 2021 that they had played together. It was a moment neither of them will forget.

“I think that I probably cried when Ashlee went in the game for the first time this season,” Pritchard said. “I was so happy because I understand. I understand how and hers was a couple of months longer than mine. I think I just know how much it took for her to get back to that point. I was in the game but trying not to cry because I have to focus but I’m so happy for her. Even when she was walking for the first time and without crutches and all those things. Those are just little victories that I don’t think that we realized how important those were. I think I got more excited for Ashlee than I probably did about myself.”

Ashlee Maldonado drives against Stanford at Maples Pavilion. Photo Credit: Don Jedlovec/Santa Clara Athletics.

Coming off the injuries, the two of them have had the best seasons of their careers in Santa Clara. Both have put up career highs in points scored, rebounds, and assists. Maldonado ranks eighth in the WCC with her 100 assists on the season. Pritchard is the bigger scorer, putting up a season-high 18 points in a win over San Jose State. Maldonado is more of a playmaker, dishing out a season nine assists in a win over WCC foe Pacific. They’ve also started five games together this season.

The two upperclassmen have been big leaders this season for the Broncos. Santa Clara has a very young team this season with a lot of new faces and both Pritchard and Maldonado have stepped into bigger leadership roles with the team. The two of them say the time they spent on the bench last year helped them find their voice. They also said the time they spent watching the upperclassmen guards when they were younger also helped them. That part of their game can’t be understated for this Bronco team.

“They’ve done a really good job with their voice in the locker room along with Ashley Hiraki, who’s been around here for quite some time,” Santa Clara head coach Bill Carr told The Next of Maldonado and Pritchard’s leadership. “But all three of them and Lex and Ash for sure. In the locker room with their voice and then on the floor with, you know how hard they play. It’s, it’s been great to watch.”

With the youth the Broncos have had on their roster, they’ve had a lot of ups and downs throughout the season. They beat Washington in the nonconference and only lost to at the time No. 2 Stanford Cardinal by just 13 points at Maples Pavilion. They also have finished the season, winning two of their final 10 games. However, one of those wins came against WCC frontrunner and at the time No. 17 Gonzaga.

Ashlee Maldonado drives against WCC foe Saint Mary’s. Photo Credit: Don Jedlovec/Santa Clara Athletics.

Beating Gonzaga was a huge accomplishment for the Broncos. It was the Zags’ only WCC loss of the season and was the first time the Broncos had beaten the Zags in seven seasons. In the game, Pritchard and Maldonado each played at least 27 minutes and combined for 15 points and 5 assists. For the two of them, it was a great feeling to upset the Zags.

“That was a great feeling. There was two teams I’ve never beat while being here until this year, which was BYU and Gonzaga,” Pritchard said. “Beating them, it was emotional, really more happy emotions. I was so happy I was crying in the locker room. That’s a great team and very well coached team. I think coach Carr kind of said it, I don’t think people understand how big of an accomplishment that is. Because that is just a team that is obviously made their mark in the country. In terms of what they’ve done. I think it was just really emotional.”

While the season hasn’t finished the way the Broncos wanted, Pritchard and Maldonado have once again built memories they will never forget. The Broncos come into this week’s WCC tournament as an eighth seed, but in March, anything can happen. However, for the two guards, every game is special because they get to play basketball and get to play together.

Maldonado and Pritchard were already great friends before getting injured, but the time spent away from the court has brought them closer together. They are roommates and describe themselves as two peas in a pod. The two love coffee and find coffee shops on every road trip to try different coffee everywhere they go. Their college basketball dreams brought them together and now they are two best friends who are bonded for life.

“Ashlee’s hilarious. Ashlee’s so funny,” Pritchard said. “It’s one of those funny things where it’s like, obviously, it’s like the little comments like the sly ones that are hilarious from Ashlee. I think that Ashlee is a super loyal and honest person. One thing I love about her is like Ashlee’s very family oriented and so she would do anything for this team. She you know, is someone who really rides for people but on a funnier now she is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met.”

“I can’t even explain; she’s obviously one of my best friends on the team too,” Maldonado said when describing her best friend. “She’s a great friend to have. Super caring and you can go to her for advice for anything, but she also has her like goofy, like ditzy moments where like, Lexie, wait, what are you doing? Like what are you talking about or whatever it is like she was literally like, she’s kind of like that spark when you go into a room and she’s like dancing or singing I’m like, Lexie what is going on?

Like it’s just like a funny moment where I think we both have like these, I don’t know like there’s just something that like we were just like, these things are just like oh my god so I would just say like she’s also funny and just kind of a fun person to be around.”

Written by Matthew Walter

Matthew Walter covers the Las Vegas Aces, the Pac-12 and the WCC for the Next. He is a former Director of Basketball Operations and Video Coordinator at three different Division I women's basketball programs.

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