It was a fateful day when Addison Walling and Ally Longaker first met in sixth grade at Cunha Middle School 10 years ago. Ever since then, the two have played on the same basketball team.
The two friends, both 20 years old, currently play more than 1,700 miles from the West Coast at Austin College, a Division 3 school in Sherman, Texas. Both have had to adjust to living and playing so far from home, and the journey has had its ups and downs.
With a highlight win over No. 5 Mary Hardin Baylor last week, the unranked Kangaroos are 11-0, and both girls are contributing to its best start in school history. Longaker, a 6-foot forward, is averaging 8.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting at 52 percent from the field. Walling, a 5-foot-8-inch guard, is averaging 6.9 points and shooting 42.3 percent on 3-pointers.
In high school, the two joked about playing in college together. When Longaker reached out to Austin College, the school was not only keen on her but took an interest in Walling as well.
“It’s just cool to look back and think we’ve been playing since sixth grade,” Walling said. “It’s been fun to see how our dynamic has both changed and stayed the same. And others know we have a chemistry on the court.”
Both were stars during a solid stretch of Cougar basketball, and were part of the squad that won the school’s first-ever Central Coast Central Division 4 title in 2017. Even before the two committed to Austin College, they knew the team’s freewheeling offensive system aligned with how they had played the past four years under Cougars head coach Antonio Veloso.
“The coach here, when she was telling me about their style of play, it was a lot of motion offense, not running a lot of set plays, which is almost exactly what Antonio had always emphasized,” Longaker said. “It’s going out and playing basketball, just making the reads, and not worrying so much about following sets like passing the ball here and going there next. It was just playing the game.”
Austin College head coach Michelle Filander realized early on during their freshman season that the connection between Longaker and Walling manifested itself in winning basketball. Both got minutes off the bench, but Longaker moved up to the starting spot early on in the season after a senior requested a different rotation.
“Because of the change, me and Addison weren’t playing as many minutes together, and (Filander) realized it was a disadvantage not playing us together as much,” Longaker said.
Their success hasn’t come without challenges. Longaker described her difficulty adjusting to the new environment. Living in a new community far from home and only returning home briefly twice a year was tough. But, gradually, she learned to expand her comfort zone. Walling, who was born in Texas, has extended family there. Her grandparents and uncle now come to their games. Longaker described it as having “a second family.”
“Having someone here that I’d known for so long, and was such good friends with, definitely helped with the college transition,” she said. Longaker knows their situation is special, and she doesn’t take it for granted. She believes having a group of close-knit friends to spend time with made a difference.
“Eventually I realized that I really loved this school,” Longaker said. “I had a bunch of great teammates and friends here, and I wanted to come back.”