STRASBURG — Kyierra Ashby was in seventh grade and a member of the Signal Knob Middle School track and field team the last time she’d competed in the hurdles.
Ashby, now a junior at Strasburg High School, remembered last week excelling in those events early on in her track career, but the hurdles were never part of her plans during her first two seasons at the varsity level with the Rams in 2017 and 2018.
Glenn Proctor, the Rams’ longtime hurdles coach, is always pushing Strasburg’s female track athletes to try the hurdles. He sells it, he said, by telling those athletes that they have fewer girls to beat in those events because many girls shy away from them.
Ashby, who broke in with Strasburg’s track team primarily as a horizontal jumper, gave in to Proctor’s urging this spring, choosing to add the 300-meter intermediate hurdles to her list of events for her junior season.
“At first I was scared because I’d never done them before,” Ashby said during a home meet with Clarke County and Page County last Wednesday, “so I didn’t think I’d have the stamina for it. But then I ran the first race at Luray (on March 20) and I got first and I was like ‘wow, that’s pretty good.’ And I was only like four seconds off from a state time, so I was like ‘I think I’m pretty good at this.’ I just kept running them and the second time I ran them, I was a second away from a state time.”
That second time running the 300 hurdles for Ashby came at Strasburg’s Ram Country Invitational on March 28, the Rams’ first big track and field meet of the 2019 season.
Racing that day against a field that included a pair of 2018 Virginia High School League Class 2 state medal winners — Wilson Memorial’s Paige Miller, last year’s state champ in the 300 hurdles, and Clarke County’s Elizabeth Wallace — Ashby placed third behind Miller and Loudoun County’s Noelle Sanders, posting a time of 51.43 seconds.
Not only did that mark show a drop of 4.44 seconds from the time Ashby posted in the Luray meet eight days earlier, but it was also only 1.28 seconds off the state-qualifying time of 50.15.
The most impressive part of it all is that Ashby had practiced the 300 hurdles just once before running that event at Luray, and even then Ashby said that was “basically a stretching drill” that most everyone else on the team took part in.
“To me that’s just pure talent,” Rams head track and field coach Ina Rae Crisman said of Ashby’s quick success. “She’s a natural for it. We’re very fortunate that we have someone that talented to be able to go out and do those with limited training.”
Proctor also called Ashby a natural in the hurdles, though he noted that Ashby clearly developed some form when she ran them in middle school that has translated to the high school level. Proctor added that Ashby’s older sister Montavia, who competed in the hurdles for Strasburg, likely “cultivated” some of the success Ashby is now experiencing.
“The quality that she has that is unique, and it’s natural to her, she is equally adept at leading with her left leg or her right,” Proctor said of the younger Ashby.
“A lot of kids when they come into the hurdle, they kind of chop, start stutter-stepping in there, but she doesn’t do that. When you do that you lose all your momentum. She’s not a victim of that. So she ran her first race and it wasn’t off the charts, but then in her second meet she was down in there in the low 50’s, and I said ‘Kyierra, wow. That could be your best event.’”
Proctor estimated he hasn’t had a female athlete post a sub-50 time in the 300 hurdles since Gabe Giersch in 2010. He said Ashby “without a doubt” has the potential to be the next Ram to accomplish that feat.
When Proctor told Ashby that only a handful of girls would be breaking 50 seconds at the state meet come June (Miller won the state title in 2018 with a time of 47.08 seconds), Ashby started getting “pretty excited” about the possibilities, he said.
“In fact last week she asked for more over-distance kind of training, and that’s unusual for a kid to do that,” Proctor said last Wednesday. “They say ‘I want to run some 300s and get in shape for those things.’ When you have a kid doing that, boy I’ll tell you what, that kind of lights your fire.”
Ashby has already had a bit of a fire burning inside her since the end of her sophomore season last spring. She came tantalizingly close to qualifying for the Class 2 state championships in the jumping events in 2018, placing fifth in the triple jump and sixth in the long jump at the Region 2B Championships. The top four individuals in each event at the regional meet qualified for the state competition.
Ashby has already shown vast improvement in those events this season. She said her best triple jump of 33 feet, four inches — which netted her second place at the Ram Country Invitational — this season beat her previous personal-best by two feet, and her season-best long jump of 15-11.50 beat her previous personal record by six inches. She added that she’d never cleared the high jump bar at 4-08 prior to doing so at the Ram Country Invitational.
Ashby’s 300 hurdles time and her triple jump distance led all local female track and field athletes from the six public high schools in the Daily’s coverage area as of April 9.
“She’s a point-getter,” Crisman said of Ashby, who also runs on the Rams’ 4x400 relay team. “She is gonna be there for a good chunk of our points and that’s just gonna help our team have strong finishes and perform well and lead us on to the next step, next milestone.”
Ashby, who won the 300 hurdles, the long jump and the triple jump at a four-team meet at Page County on Monday, is hoping her personal milestones this spring include a trip to the state championships for the first time.
“That is my motivation, that I was so close last year,” Ashby said. “I don’t want to be so close. I want to be there.”