Ashley West, a runner who comes from a talented soccer family, winced when asked if she’d ever played the game.
“Just once,” she said. “I scored . . . but it was the wrong goal.”
And so began a running career whose latest goal is to compete in the national Division III championships.
A freshman at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., West, who was recently named the Landmark Conference’s winter track athlete of the year as well as winter track’s co-rookie of the year, won the mile and the 800 in the conference’s winter meet and anchored the 4-by-400 relay team that came in second. Her 2:19.07 in the 800 set a school and conference record, and her 5:09 in the mile “missed setting school and conference records by a 10th of a second.”
The relay team’s 4:08 set a school record too, she said.
Bill Herzog, who has coached her since she was a seventh grader, said, “Those are great accomplishments. She had a very good cross-country season — she was the conference’s rookie of the year in cross-country too — and she had a very, very successful winter season. I’m sorry I couldn’t get down to see her in the conference meet. . . . She’s a real competitor, she works extremely hard, sometimes too hard.”
West was quick to admit that she could on occasion be her worst enemy. “Shani [Cuesta], who was my main coach in high school — she’s tiny but very intense — knew that I liked to psych myself out before a big race. I guess Bill knew too, but he didn’t tell me. When I’m up against tough opponents, I tend to doubt myself, and I run a bad race as a result. Shani used to tell me that she knew I could do it — that I should run my own race. Not think about it, just do it. I still have that problem in college sometimes, but my coach, Marty Owens — he never cracks a smile — tells me when I say I don’t know what to do and all that, ‘Just shut up and run.’ ”
Two leg stress fractures — one incurred during the spring of her junior year at East Hampton High School and the other occurring that fall — made running full-out problematic for a while, the latter one effectively putting the state cross-country meet out of reach in her senior year. “My leg hurt so much in the state qualifier that I had to pull out — I had no stamina, I felt like crap.” But, characteristically, she rebounded quickly, rehabbing on treadmills, and made Suffolk’s intersectional relay that winter, a team that was to take third place at the state meet, and she also competed at New York City’s 168th Street Armory in the national 400. In the spring, she won the divisional 200 and placed fourth in the state qualifier 400.
In other words, when it comes to running, she can do it all.
“I guess,” she said in answer to a question, “that the 800 is my favorite race. I feel very comfortable in it. I didn’t know it was my event when I was in high school, but Marty Owens could see that it was. I’ve got the stamina and the leg speed. It’s a very hard race, but I know I can get my time lower. My college coach thinks the mile might be my race too. I was tired for most of the conference mile, but I had a kick at the end.”
“We’ve started spring training now,” she continued. “I think I’ll be running mostly in the 8 and in the 4-by-4, and they may sprinkle in one or two 4s and a couple of 1,500s.”
Asked if she could run the 100, as well, West smiled and said, “I can run the 100, but they won’t put me in it. It’s the same with the 2.”
And her goal now? “To run in the nationals. It’s my coach’s goal for me too. I almost had a shot this year — I was very close in the 800 — but the qualifying meet at Ursinus got canceled.”
As for her coach, the aforementioned Marty Owens, he replied via e-mail: “Man, I could go on for pages about Ashley. She is a very talented runner who is definitely coming into her own here at Susquehanna University. She may be one of the most coachable athletes I have worked with. . . . I think she is going to do a lot of great things in her career, and that her best races are ahead of her. As she gains experience and knowledge, she is not only going to be a dominant runner in our conference, but she will do some things at the national level, as well. . . . I see many more conference championships and records, and several trips to the N.C.A.A. indoor and outdoor championships in her future.”
Might she run a marathon at some point? “I don’t know — I want to run more 5Ks,” she said. “My cousin, Arianna Bailey, who goes to Messiah [as does West’s older brother, Brandon, who tended the goal for Messiah’s national-champion men’s soccer team this past fall], wants me to run a half-marathon. But I’m happy where I am.”