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West Ranch's Ashley Welker: Up for a challenge

Ashley Welker will compete at the state meet before heading to the Navy in June

Posted: June 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: June 1, 2012 1:55 a.m.

West Ranch runner Ashley Welker just missed the CIF State finals last season. Today, she’ll try to change those fortunes when she races in the preliminary round of the 800 meters at the CIF State track and field meet in Clovis. In June, Welker will head to the United States Naval Academy.

In the 800-meter race, you have to have the strength to run at a quick pace. You also have to have the endurance to stretch that pace over two laps.

In short, the 800 is a tough event.

Ashley Welker knows tough.

The West Ranch senior, who is headed to the United States Naval Academy in late June, has been an elite 800 runner for most of her prep career.

“You need to go all out the whole time,” she says. “If you catch yourself getting comfortable for a second, it’s not going to be a good race.”

In a way, Welker did that last season at the least opportune time. At last spring’s CIF State Track and Field Championships, Welker ran her preliminary race in 2 minutes, 12.02 seconds, good for third in her heat.

The top two finishers in each of the three heats advanced to the state finals, along with the next three fastest overall times.
Welker thought her time was good enough. That might have been the case anywhere other than California.

She ended up missing the state finals by less than a tenth of a second, as Long Beach Poly’s Arielle Stevenson finished in 2:11.93.

“I think last year, she was just caught by surprise,” says West Ranch assistant coach Rick Larimore. “She thought she had done enough, but when they put it all together, she was the odd man out. She won’t let that happen again this year.”

After losing in the state prelims, Welker stayed and watched the championship race the next night, and she says it left a mark on her.

So she took the necessary steps to improve her own marks. Larimore says she worked a lot on her core speed, harnessing an ability to run a 60-second opening lap and still have plenty left in the tank.

Welker’s going to need a lot of energy, considering the collegiate path she’s about to follow. When college letters started pouring in during her junior year, she says the Navy letters caught her eye.

Last October, she began looking at the service academy in earnest.

“The coaches definitely stood out as being very smart and into the program,” she says. “That definitely helped key my interest in the Navy.”

But there was still plenty left to be done. She had to get medical clearance, recommendations from teachers, and even a nomination from Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita.

Welker says that former West Ranch High swimmer Riley Mita, who is currently enrolled in the Navy, was a big help during the application process.

“It’s definitely more complicated than the process for the average student,” Welker laughs.

She’ll leave for Annapolis, Md., on June 26, and induction day is June 28. At that point, she’ll not only begin cross country and track and field training, but basic training as well.

“I know that it’ll be tough with double workouts and extra core at Navy, but I just try not to look too far ahead,” Welker says.

Looking back, she’s met some big challenges already this postseason.

First, Welker outlasted Golden Valley star Chelsey Totten at the Foothill League finals in the 800 on May 4. Her time of 2:11.45 is still the fastest overall in the Foothill League this season.

Two weeks later at the CIF-Southern Section Division I finals, she finished as runner-up in the ultra-competitive Division I field.

At last week’s Masters Meet, she finished fifth to grab the final automatic state qualifying spot. Welker ran a smart race at Cerritos College, finishing the first lap in 64 seconds and reserving enough power for her kick to overtake runners over the final 100 meters.

“I think she’s just matured,” Larimore says. “She thinks more about her races now, rather than just trying to dominate because she’s a great athlete.”

In addition to being physically tough, Welker has become mentally tough.

Just ask her about the competition at the state championships. Welker enters with the 12th-fastest seed time out of the 25 runners, and the top time belongs to Harvard-Westlake senior Amy Weissenbach, who set the national record in the event at last year’s state meet.

Over the past three years, three Santa Clarita Valley runners — Valencia’s Aly Drake and College of the Canyons’ Chris Low and Corey Honeycutt — have combined to win four state titles in the 800, so one could say it’s been the valley’s signature race of late.

But it’s going to take a mighty effort from Welker to join the club against Weissenbach. That’s not necessarily how she looks at it.

“It’s basically just racing any other race,” Welker says. “You know some girls go in with a faster time, but you’ve still got to remember it’s just another girl on the starting line.”

Welker is aiming for a podium finish this weekend, which would require a top-six time. Only one athlete in program history, 2011 graduate and current UCLA runner Jennifer Owen, has done that, finishing fourth in the 1,600 in 2010.

If Welker wants to duplicate or better that feat, she’s going to have to get past Friday first.

“She’s focused. She’s ready to drop a few seconds,” Larimore says. “She doesn’t want to quit on Friday. She wants to make it to Saturday.”

It’s going to be tough.

Then again, that’s who Welker is.



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