By Jeff Nations
Ashton Davis spent Thursday familiarizing herself with Radford University's campus as part of her incoming freshman orientation.
One place Davis could have skipped is Radford's Patrick D. Cupp Memorial Stadium, site of this year's Group 1A-2A state track and field championships. Davis knows that particular piece of real estate all too well, but that didn't stop her from taking a stroll down recent memory lane.
And why not? It's good memories, after all. Davis was at her very best for her Stonewall Jackson High School squad in the Group 2A state meet held on June 8. The recent graduate turned in her best-ever performances in both the 400-meter dash and the triple jump, earning all-state honors in both to cap a successful high school career. Davis, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year, couldn't have asked for much more from her final high school meet.
"You put in what you get out," Davis said. "I think this year I worked hard, and I think it showed how hard I worked at states. I had my very best time [in the 400] and my best jump [triple jump]. That's all you can ask for."
When Davis is at her best, few are better. That holds especially true in the 400 meters, a sort of signature race for her.
"You've got to be in the right mindset to run it," Stonewall Jackson girls coach Debbie Ritchie said. "It's a mental and a physical challenge to run that race, and I think she does it as well as anyone I've ever seen."
In the state competition, Davis knew she faced an uphill struggle to win a championship in the 400. True, Davis entered as the second seed in the race. But the top seed, Brunswick's Brooke Stith, was an overwhelming favorite based on her seeding time. If the race played out like it did on paper, Davis didn't stand a chance.
At first, that's just what happened. Stith, the daughter of former University of Virginia and NBA basketball player Bryant Stith, rocketed to the front and quickly left the rest of the field in the dust. Davis could have tried to go out with her, but instead stayed within her own comfort level and maintained her own pace.
About 250 meters into the race, Davis put away third-place finisher Anne Grumbine and Lebanon's Mary Easton. That just left Stith, well ahead by then. Davis started to close the gap over the final 100 meters, and was still closing it as Stith crossed the finish line to win in 58.18 seconds. Davis took second with a personal-best time of 59.36.
"I wasn't even a second away from her," Davis said. "Now it just frustrates me -- did I leave it all on the track? That's what I'm thinking now. But I'm still happy and satisfied with what I did."
The same holds true for the triple jump, where Davis didn't even think she'd survived the preliminary round at states.
"All of my jumps were terrible except the last one," Davis said. "I'd already started snacking. I was very surprised and happy."
Davis landed a personal-best jump of 34-05 in the finals to earn all-state honors with a seventh-place finish.
"This year she pressed awfully hard to get better in the jumps, instead of using her natural ability," Stonewall Jackson coach Dick Krol said. "She didn't do as well as she would have liked in the jumps, but she still placed at states."
Davis, who ran but did not place in the states in the 200 and also competed in the long jump, added one more all-state effort as part of the Generals' 1,600 relay. Running the anchor on a team that included Amanda Dotson, Cheyenne Crigger and Cheyanne Green, Davis helped Stonewall to a seventh-place finish in 4:22.26.
"In my jumps and the 200, all I wanted to do was go to states," Davis said. "I wanted to go in all my events, and I was really excited that I actually did that."
Davis has no plans to go out for track and field at Radford next year, instead shifting her focus to academics. That track, so close and so full of memories, could prove an irresistible pull -- you never know.
"I think I'm just going to run on my own next year, back off the whole competition thing," Davis said. "I'll always love running."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org