By Jeff Nations
Stonewall Jackson High School senior Ashton Davis has been serving as a mentor of sorts for the younger Generals this season, providing a bit of coaching and a lot of encouragement to the younger runners on the team.
She also occasionally gives rides to practice at the New Market Battlefield cross country course, which ended up being the catalyst of her nickname -- "Mama."
"I have these little freshmen that I drive to the battlefield," Davis said. "I don't know how it started -- my name became 'Mama.' They're my little babies, my freshmen."
At last week's Shenandoah County championship meet, Davis showed her younger teammates they still have some lessons to learn from 'Mama.' She won that meet at the North Street course in Woodstock in convincing fashion with a first-place time of 19 minutes, 53.10 seconds. That performance netted Davis The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week honor for Oct. 13-Oct. 19.
The county championship was a first for Davis, who's still hitting milestones in cross country after taking up the sport just last year as a junior. It didn't take her long to make an impact for the Generals, and by year's end she was the team's top distance runner. At the Group A state meet last year, Davis -- who'd barely qualified after finishing 15th at the Region B meet -- clocked a 20:02 to finish fourth overall.
Those kind of results led to some fairly high expectations heading into this season for Davis, and Generals coach Mary Clanahan said she's been more than ready to meet them.
"I don't know if she's had her best race yet," Clanahan said. "She surprises us at each meet. Every race, she looks that much smoother and that much better."
Davis said her goal heading into this season was simply to break her own personal record on the New Market course, which she accomplished on Sept. 28 at the Stonewall Jackson Invitational. The county title was another first, an accomplishment Davis describes as "pretty cool."
"She's just coming into her own right now," Clanahan said. "She's running very smart races right now."
Davis locked up the Shenandoah District's Female Runner of the Year honor at Wednesday's tri-meet hosted by East Rockingham with another first-place finish. Davis took the honor on a points system which scored dual meets among district schools, and beat out East Rockingham's Jordan Shuff by two points for the top spot. Incidentally, Davis beat Shuff -- by two seconds -- at Wednesday's tri-meet.
The stakes start getting even higher next week, when the Generals host the Conference 25 meet at New Market Battlefield. Clanahan thinks Davis is primed for another strong finish this season, and opening the "postseason" on her home course can only help.
"I think I have finally found a pace and I'm happy with it," Davis said. "Now I just want to work with that and build up my endurance built up a little bit more."
Clanahan knows she won't have Davis to rely on after this season, but her prized senior is leaving a mark that will be felt in the years to come by mentoring freshman runners like Brandy Webb, Aletse Tapia and Mercedes Roberts.
"She's mothering the freshmen really well right now," Clanahan said. "That's going to help us in the future."