Thursday, May 11, 2006

Taking it up a notch, or two; First-year Bengal hopes her 3A success carries over to Idaho's largest classification

This feature story on AshLee ran in today's Lewiston Tribune. Thank you to reporter Dale Grummert for giving me permission to post his story here.

Tribune/Kyle Mills
AshLee Rey won two state track titles last year for Priest River, and has given the Lewiston High girls' team a big boost this season as a senior transfer.



The coach cued up the next race, the girls' 400-meter dash, and now his critique took on an extra zing. Look at this runner, Keith Stuffle told a dozen Lewiston High track athletes gathered for a video review of their recent meets.

Right out of the blocks, he said, the runner had settled into a posture that affected her whole race. Her hips were too low, her hands too high. Every step met more resistance than it should have.

A last-place performance? Perhaps the worst of the meet?

Not at all. It was the fastest 400-meter dash by a Lewiston girl in a couple of decades.

It's just that the standards are a bit higher for AshLee Rey, a state Class 3A champion last year for Priest River trying to make the most of her lone season on the 5A level.

"Do you see what I mean?" Stuffle said to Rey. But she was already nodding in agreement.

The Bengals, with a rejuvenated girls' sprint crew led by Rey, will vie for state-meet berths today and Friday in the 5A District I-II meet at Vollmer Bowl in Lewiston.

Rey has neither a long stride, a refined technique nor an outwardly intense manner. But she's fast, and she's quietly driven. Her career took an abrupt leap last year for Priest River when she won 200- and 400-meter titles as a junior at the Idaho state meet, narrowly missing the 3A record in the longer race with a time of 57.5 seconds.

Then, reluctantly, she switched schools. Prompted by rising property values in Bonner County, her parents -- mother Karla Morris and step-father Doug Ellis -- bought a house on Waha Lake, and their eldest of three daughters started over at a bigger school.

"Going up to 5A seemed like a lot more competition, which would be better for me, but it was kind of scary," she said. "Being 3A, I always thought of the 5A people as being way faster."

As it turned out, making friends at Lewiston High wasn't a problem, given Rey's reputation as a sprinter and her affable personality.

"In case you haven't noticed, her face is kind of stuck in a smile," Bengals hurdler and sprinter Janie Perez said, "and she's, like, always happy and crazy."

But Rey made one concession to the 5A level. Assuming the Bengals basketball team could do without a 5-foot-3 guard who often rode the bench in 3A, she decided to forgo that sport and devote the winter to conditioning. And "because I'm not very self-motivating," she sought out the Lewiston track coach to help her plan a training regimen.

Stuffle himself was new to Lewiston, having spent the previous five years coaching in Orofino. Yes, he had heard of Rey. Yes, he knew her presence would make his new job easier. And yes, he would be happy to direct her after-school workouts a couple of days a week.

Seven months later, the extra conditioning is apparent in Rey's performances, and Stuffle now believes she would make an excellent 800-meter runner in college. She has been accepted academically at Eastern Washington, where her father David Rey is the media-relations specialist, but she is still listening to track offers from other schools.

Meanwhile, she and Stuffle are still hammering away on technical and strategic points.

Take the 400. Rey is accustomed to hoarding energy for her signature finishing kick, but Stuffle wants her to attack the first half of the one-lap race. This proved a bit difficult. Three weeks ago, in the Nez Perce/Lewis and Clark Games in Kamiah, Rey finally bought into the idea, in the extreme. She screamed through the first 200, wavered on the far curve, hit the wall on the homestretch, then summoned enough strength to finish the race, winning by five seconds. But she still felt drained as she warmed up later for the 200 -- and for Ellen Rouse.

Rouse, a sophomore from Orofino and a former Stuffle protg, had won a state 2A title last year in the 200 and now was emerging as Rey's rival. She had already lost twice to the Lewiston senior in previous weeks, but she's an athletic, disciplined runner, and no less serious than Rey.

She beat her that day, and it was Rey's first loss in the 200 in two years. Rey was stunned. Stuffle, pained to think his advice had cost her the winning streak, tracked her down and apologized.

A week later, during a showcase meet at Boise, there was another mishap. Narrowly leading a 200-meter race with about 8 meters left, Rey began leaning toward the tape too soon, and she briefly stumbled. She recovered in time to finish in a personal-record time, but meanwhile two opponents -- Rouse and Alyssa Covington of Borah -- stormed past her, and were eventually declared co-winners. That knotted the season series between Rey and Rouse at 2-2.

They met one final time, in the District II Meet of Champions last Thursday at Vollmer Bowl. Neither runner is likely to forget the race soon.

First, Rey again ran a taxing 400-meter race -- the one that Stuffle would later dissect for her on video. It wasn't technically sound, but it was a hearty run, and Rey posted a season-best time of 58.2 seconds, just shy of the school record of 58.16.

The 200 duel came less than an hour later. Rouse led briefly at the halfway point, but Rey seemingly took heart from a vague tailwind and inched ahead. With 15 meters remaining, Rey was clearly straining for a fund of energy. Somehow she found it, and she won by the slightest visible margin.

"I wanted it a lot more -- more than any other time," Rey said, "just because she had beaten me the last two times."

The hand-held time, she learned later, was an almost inexplicable 25.0 seconds, eight-tenths faster than her personal best and tying one of Lewiston's most respected school records, set in 1987 by Tracy Saxton.

"Watching the video, and I've replayed it in my head over and over," Stuffle said the next day, "I don't know how she won that race. Because Ellen (Rouse) didn't break. Ellen held form, Ellen kept rolling. And it wasn't a physical thing. It wasn't mental. The girl just has an incredible desire to win. That's what makes an athlete special. And it's pretty cool to see."


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