ASU WBB cites “Horizontal Leadership” as Catalyst to Team Success

By Ethan Schimdt // Women’s Basketball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports

TEMPE, Ariz  —  Arizona State women’s basketball continues to take a special approach to leadership that’s improving the team on and off the court.

(Photo: Weston DeWitt / Blaze Sports)

Head coach Charli Turner Thorne is implementing a concept called “Horizontal Leadership,” which’s a method that’s designed to give everyone equal power for the betterment of the team.

“It’s a principle that we subscribe to in our program,” Turner Thorne said. “Within our organization, within our team, we’re growing everybody as leaders.”

Turner Thorne fell in love with the idea after a coaching friend of hers showed her a video that resonated and then motivated her to implement it.

Now, the ASU coaching staff believes in instilling this idea into every woman that steps foot on campus from day one. In a season without any seniors on the roster, this approach has become more important than ever for the program.

“There’s not just one leader on the team,” sophomore guard Robbi Ryan said. “We all lead because you can’t do it by yourself. We all lean on each other and we all take turns leading.”

A new team, like ASU, with many new roles is bound to maneuver obstacles throughout a season. The Sun Devils currently have 11 players and six of them are underclassmen.

However, with the application of “Horizontal Leadership,” the younger women on the team are provided equal opportunity to step up and lead. Seniority is an ancient concept to everyone in the program minus the coaching staff.

“It’s more of a collaborative leadership year than I’ve ever had in my coaching career,” Turner Thorne said. “We’re just kind of going with it and I think it’s helping a lot of players find their voices, which is really cool.”

A key moment in its season arose after ASU suffered its most lopsided defeat on the road against Stanford on Jan. 26. It was the team’s fourth loss in five games, and the losses forced the Sun Devils to figure out get back to their winning ways against Cal less than two days later. And luckily they did.

Many ASU players spoke up after that game in the locker room, according to Turner Thorne.

“Collectively, they just said, ‘No, this is not us,’ Turner Thorne said of her team. They really snapped out of some of the stuff that had been holding them back.”

“When things are tough, it is actually cool to see freshmen, and everybody feel confident to speak up.”

ASU went into Berkeley and had its best defensive outing of the season that night, winning 57-42. The Sun Devils big victory has ignited a current three-game win streak.

“We are really close,” Ryan said. “We are all really competitive and all want to win. At the end of the day, no matter what, we have each other’s backs and we are there for each other.”

(Photo: Weston DeWitt / Blaze Sports)

The ‘Horizontal Leadership’ principle allows for players like junior guard Sabrina Haines, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 3, to still be an integral part of leadership even though she cannot take the court with her team.

“Nobody is above anybody and that we are all in it together and we all lead each other together,” Haines said. “I think everybody just has their own individual part in leadership. It really works out for us because we all understand each other’s needs and we try to appeal to them.”

Haines continues to bring positive energy to her teammates every day. She can always be found in the middle of the team huddle just before game time.

“I want to help them in whatever way I can,” Haines said. “If they need anybody to talk to them or just help them with plays or players, I hope to help them with that. I know that when I was on the court and people talked to me about that, it helped.”

Basketball is going to end at some point for these women, and the same goes for any athlete in any sport. But the leadership skills they’re gaining at ASU are preparing them for something much bigger than sports.

Turner Thorne hopes her approach carries on with her players beyond the game.

“We want all the young women in our program to leave here and go into their disciplines or their communities and be strong, caring leaders,” Turner Thorne said. ‘Horizontal Leadership’ is just that.”

Ethan Schmidt is a beat writer for Blaze Sports covering ASU Women’s Basketball. You can reach out to him at or follow Ethan on Twitter @TheEthanSchmidt.

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