By Jeff Nations
QUICKSBURG -- Stonewall Jackson High School senior Ashton Davis just might have figured out a last-minute Christmas present for Generals coach Mary Clanahan.
During an interview for her second straight honor as The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year, Davis mentioned that she'd forgotten socks for the Class 2A East Regional meet at Panorama Farms. That could have been bad, but Clanahan came to the rescue.
"I always carry a spare pair," Clanahan said.
Turns out, Davis never returned those socks. A new pair would quite literally make the ideal stocking stuffer, but Clanahan is just fine going forward with one less set of hosiery. Davis, after all, has been a gift to Stonewall Jackson's cross country program the past two seasons and Clanahan expects her impact to extend beyond the brief time Davis competed for the Generals.
"It had been awhile since we had taken anyone to the state meet in cross country, so it's nice to have someone back on that level and to be able to crack the Maggie Walkers and Clarke County and even Strasburg, a local team. It'd be nice to have a team, but even to have an individual be at that level is phenomenal for a school this size. Ashton has let our individuals here say, 'Hey, it is possible for someone from a school our size to be there. So it gives hope to our program."
Davis didn't even run cross country until her junior year. Before that, she's exclusively concentrated on track and field as a jumper and short-distance runner.
"Going into last season, I didn't expect much from myself because I'd only been a short-distance runner -- I'd never ran three miles, probably not total, in my whole life," Davis said. "So I thought running three miles would be really hard. I only did it because my friends talked me into it. I never expected anything like what happened. I guess I'm just kind of made for doing that."
So it would seem, judging by that spectacular first season that ended with Davis on the podium at Great Meadow after finishing fourth in Group A state cross country championships. Along the way, Davis broke Stonewall Jackson's school record on its home course at New Market Battlefield, a mark previously held by former Generals and Shenandoah University standout Tracey Swoope.
With the reshuffling of classifications placing Stonewall in the same 2A division with state powerhouse Maggie Walker and perennially strong George Mason, it was difficult to predict how well Davis might fare this season.
Her regular season was more than encouraging -- Davis went unbeaten against district opponents to win the Shenandoah District Girls Cross Country Runner of the Year honor. Her main competition -- and personal highlight -- came from running against sophomore Jordan Shuff of East Rockingham. Clanahan, watching Davis emerge from the Elkton woods for the final stretch, called it "a picture perfect run."
"The race I was most proud of was probably the one against East Rock this year," Davis said. "Running against Jordan, on her home course -- I stayed with her the whole time because my dad had pulled up some stuff [on the Internet], and he was like, 'She's not going to have the kick at the end. So that's where you can pass her, at the end.' So I stayed with her the whole time, and at the end I kicked it."
Davis also added to her trophy collection by winning her first title at the annual Shenandoah County meet. Davis breezed to that victory at Central's North Street Course in Woodstock.
"I thought that was pretty cool," Davis said. "I'd never had one of those before. It was nice to have that little sculpted lady -- I don't know what you'd call it -- trophy thing."
Davis also took down her own school record at New Market during Stonewall Jackson Invitational, clocking a third-place finish of 20 minutes, 51 seconds.
Three weeks later at the Conference 35 meet, Davis did it again. George Mason's Blaise Sevier passed her in the second mile en route to the win, but Davis' second-place time of 20:37 was 14 seconds better than her previous record.
"She looked like a gazelle," Clanahan said. "She was a graceful gazelle, that's what she looked like those days. Those were beautiful moments for her, and for us."
Davis wouldn't go that far, but admitted it was a solid effort.
"That was a good race," Davis said. "I remember it was the end of second mile, and then Blaise passed me. But it was a good race overall. I couldn't ask for anything better for a conference meet."
The following week, Davis confronted the thing she dreads most -- hills, lot of them -- in the 2A East Regional at Panorama Farms near Charlottesville.
"That course is always a killer," Davis said. "It's got the hills, crazy hills. But I mean it was the last time I was ever going to run there, so you take it as the last meet that you'll ever be there and you can conquer the hills."
That's also the race Davis ran in borrowed socks, which was just fine. She finished eighth overall in 20:39 in her first encounter with Maggie Walker's loaded squad.
"It was crazy because they were all so fast," Davis said. "Just green [their jersey color] everywhere."
Davis saw plenty more of the at the Class 2A state meet at Great Meadow, where she earned all-state honors once again with a 14th-place finish in 20:08.
"I don't think I ran a very smart race," Davis said. "I got out so fast because we'd been working on so much speed. I thought I had it in me, but I guess I didn't. That race was not one of my best, but I'm not unhappy with it.
"It is what it is. I finished, I was one of the top 15, so there's not really much more you could ask for."
Davis enjoyed having freshman teammate Brandy Webb along run with at this year's state meet after going it solo last year.
"It's more fun, more experiences you can have when you have a teammate there," Davis said. "I was glad Brandy was there."
As it stands now, Davis is planning to compete in track and field in the spring and then hang up her running shoes -- for the most part -- and concentrate on academics in college.
"Not competitive running, but just on my own, for me," Davis said. "I think my competitive days are in the book. I don't think the competitive running is for me anymore."
Clanahan is just glad she decided to lace them up last year and come out for cross country, and said her impact will extend throughout the program for years to come.
"She also helped our coaching staff learn lessons, too," Clanahan said. "You're never too old to learn as a coach, either, because there were things we would do like try to tell them why they were running certain things. She told us last year, 'You tell us too much while we're running.' I said I don't understand, and she said, 'Fewer words. She said use one-word commands at me while I'm running because I'll probably hear the one word, as opposed to many.'
"And that seemed to work a whole lot better. We not only used that with her, but with other athletes and we were able to see better results with them."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>