According to Cal Poly track and field coach Mark Conover, junior Ashley Windsor is a shining example of the progress most college coaches hope their athletes make — consistent growth that takes bigger steps as the lights get brighter.
“There have been no glitches as far as her evolution,” he said. “She’s responded really well to the workouts and situations, and she’s been dropping her times.”
The growth has resulted in a berth in this week’s NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., alongside teammate and high jumper Danielle Bryan.
For both, it is the first time competing at the national meet after participating in the west prelims multiple times.
“It’s immeasurable — you can’t quantify what this type of experience is,” Conover said. “They’re both performing at a really nice level and are going to go in there with the right mindset.”
Windsor, a native of British Columbia, is seeded ninth in the 1,500-meter run after posting a personal-best time of 4 minutes, 15.90 seconds in finishing fifth at the West prelims two weeks ago. The mark was a three-second drop from the 4:18.54 silver-medal run at the Big West Champions and 12 seconds faster than her best time as a sophomore of 4:27.27.
“I think for all of us — myself, assistant Priscilla Bayley and Ashley — knew that type of mark was a possibility,” Conover said of the 4:15.90. “It’s about getting in the right race and having things go right.”
Conover said running with defending NCAA champion and 2015 favorite Shelby Houlihan, who was focused more on qualifying for nationals than winning the regional, helped Windsor push to a new personal record.
“Shelby was going to stay out of trouble but still run an honest pace, and Ashley was able to latch onto that,” he said. “She took advantage of the situation, executed a fantastic race plan and got that great drop.”
So is another sizeable time shave in store for Thursday’s semifinal or — if she qualifies — Saturday’s final?
“I really don’t know,” Conover said. “At this point you just go out there and run. “It’s in Eugene, which is Track Town USA and a fantastic place to run. The field will roll pretty good, and the goal is to get to that final. Put yourself to in a position to get to into the final and go from there.”
Bryan’s national meet breakthrough nearly came at the 2014 West prelim, where her 13th-place finish of 5 feet, 73⁄4 inches in the high jump was one spot away from qualifying from the NCAA Championships.
“I know that served as some motivation,” Conover said, “and she’s responded well.”
Bryan, a 5-11 El Camino High graduate, won the UC Santa Barbara dual at 5-8 3⁄4 and followed it up two weeks later by clearing 5-91⁄4 at the Big West Championships to finish third.
At the West prelims, she missed twice at 5-8 before making that height, and then cleared 5-10 on her first try to place 11th and qualify for nationals in 23rd place.
“She showed that she can respond in those types of pressure situations,” Conover said, “and that’s all you can ask for.”