Celebrating Athletic Excellence: Lonoke County’s Ashley Imhoff

By Dr. Robert Reising

Bowling fascinated her by age five. The shiny, smooth balls, their unhindered propulsion toward stately targets, and the resultant clatter of success brought sparkle to her spirits and laughter to her lips. The following decade saw that fascination blossom into love as she grew into young womanhood, proficient in the bowling alley and even more so in the classroom. Few schools in the nation today can claim a more outstanding student-athlete than Cabot High’s twelfth-grader Ashley Imhoff.

Photos by Mike Kemp

Born in Little Rock, Ashley confesses that she comes from “a bowling family.” Her older brother and only sibling, Josh Imhoff, was a star bowler for Cabot High’s Men’s Team before moving on to Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, where he experienced intercollegiate bowling success and earned a bachelor’s degree in business. He is currently a professional bowler. 

Ashley’s father, Corey Imhoff, a mechanical engineer in Little Rock who serves as Volunteer Assistant Bowling Coach at Cabot High, is “a great teacher…[who] really cares about the kids,” maintains Nathan Brown, the school’s Head Bowling Coach. No less enthusiastic about her daughter’s bowling prowess, Ashley’s mother, Melissa Imhoff, is a professional mammography technician who helps cancer patients at CARTI, the Central Arkansas Radiation Treatment Institute.

The 5-foot, 3-inch senior has been bowling competitively since 2014. Ashley claimed her first trophy in the spring of that year by topping the field in the (age 8 and under) Arkansas State Pepsi Tournament. She earned first place in every (age-restricted) annual competition for five consecutive years before settling for fourth place in 2021 and second place in both 2022 and 2023.

With the passing of years came ever more formidable challengers and challenges; yet Ashley continued to fare handsomely. By age 16, she had twice competed in Junior Gold Championships, national tournaments requiring participants to qualify through superior performances in other tournaments. Competing were older, more experienced players from all fifty states in what Ashley terms “the toughest conditions in bowling.” 

Her scores in those Connecticut-to-California competitions included 36th place in an Under 15 field of 400 in 2021, and 47th place in the Under 18 field of 600 in 2023. Preceding the former was a silver medal in the Arkansas 6A Central Conference Meet as well as a victory in the Under 15 competition on the Southwest Gold Tour. Key in qualifying her for the latter was a silver medal in the 6A Central Conference Tournament and a gold medal in the 2023 season final of the Under 18 Central Arkansas Youth Sport Challenge. 

A bowling schedule as full as Ashley’s demands careful planning and superior time management. She provides both, squeezing in hours for volunteer assignments at her family’s church, Beebe’s First Baptist. Nor does she neglect Cabot High’s Sports Medicine Club, in which she has been active for two years.

Because of travel, weekends are especially full, and her study habits are challenged more frequently than she prefers to acknowledge. Yet, as she makes her way to graduation in the spring, her grade point average hovers slightly above four-point perfection, with credits in four Advanced Placement (AP) courses adding luster to her credentials.

Those credentials will gain still more luster, she knows, if she earns A’s—and only A’s—during the final months of the present school year. Her success to date suggests she is not about to abandon her years-long quest for academic excellence. 

Nor is she unmindful that, with her teammates, she will be seeking Cabot High’s tenth consecutive 6A State Girls’ Bowling title in February. The honor—and the responsibility—of continuing the streak weigh heavy on all team members, but especially on those who, like Ashley, will be in the heat of the bowling battles lying ahead. 

Sibling rivalry also looms for her. If Cabot wins again, Ashley will have doubled the number of state team titles that Josh claimed as a member of the Cabot High School Men’s Bowling Team, an indignity that he kiddingly hopes will not burst into mocking reality. “Enough is too much,” the Professional Bowling Association (PBA) member already quietly growls.

Ashley, however, is a committed competitor. Possessing a 219 high school bowling average, she hopes her scores will be considerably higher than average in the coming tournament, not only surpassing Coach Brown’s hopes for her but also impressing Coach Matt Nantais, Louisiana Tech’s Head Bowling Coach. In the fall, a full scholarship awaits Ashley in Ruston, home of the Bulldogs, and nothing would please her more than greeting the veteran mentor with the unique glow that only a fourth state title cloaked in a high honors diploma can summon. Indeed, Coach Nantais would know immediately that he had recruited and invested wisely.

Ashley delights in describing her soon-to-be “home away from home.” Having visited Tech and Ruston, a city of almost 25,000 residents, she smilingly terms both “absolutely beautiful, homey and welcoming.” Other universities and settings beckoned months earlier, but every one of them paled once she spied the advantages accruing to her academically as well as athletically at the Conference USA (NCAA Division 1) institution.

Already she has declared a major. Following in her father’s footsteps, she plans to study mechanical engineering, a field in which she has job-shadowed. She is confident that she is prepared for what lies ahead and that her future is bright. Clearly, the five-year-old of 2010 has matured into an 18-year-old who is as impressive around books as she is around bowling balls, which she aims both wisely and well.

Bob Reising