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Simply the Best: Local runner garners big-time NCAA scholarship

Centennial high school's Ashlan Best is heading to Stanford
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Ashlan Best, centre, signs her letter of intent to attend Stanford University as her parents Rebecca and Edwin Best look on Wednesday at Centennial CVI. Rob Massey for GuelphToday

It took a while for Guelph sprinter Ashlan Best to realize that her prowess on the track could open doors for her.

As her parents watched during a ceremony at Centennial CVI where she’s a Grade 12 student, the 18-year-old put her name down to attend Stanford University in California and run for the school’s track team Wednesday, the first day that NCAA universities were allowed to have athletes sign letters of intent to attend their school.

“Coming into this whole experience, I never planned on taking track and going to the States for university and all these opportunities that have come with it,” she said.

“In the last couple of years I have (realized) ‘Oh, I can go somewhere with this.’ It definitely is very overwhelming, quite intense and I definitely did not know what to expect going into this experience. Yes, it has been quite stressful but overall I’m so excited about the decision.”

Stanford’s located between San Jose and San Francisco, about 3,600 kilometres from Guelph.

“It’s far away, but with university anywhere you go it’s a new chapter in your life,” she said. “As much as it is really far, it’s the whole experience that comes with it and distance was just such a minor factor that it really didn’t wind up making my decision.”

Such is Best’s talent and potential that she had around 10 major NCAA schools and a few Canadian universities after her to join their track teams. Stanford’s academic reputation and athletic successes made her lean that way.

“Academics have always been my number one and athletics has always helped me with my schooling and it’s brought opportunities exactly like this,” she said. “I’m going definitely for my academics and that was the number one reason Stanford jumped out at me. If I can continue to do athletics as well, then that’s such a great balance to me.”

She’s going in undeclared in academics for her first year and plans to pick a major possibly as soon as her second year.

“I’m taking all my general sciences and seeing first or second year what direction I want to go towards.”

As for the athletics part of it, Best is looking forward to the competition she’ll face in her specialties, the 200 and 400 metres.

“The competition in general in the States is going to be fabulous and I’m ready to compete with some of the best in the States,” she said. “The overall team is such a great team to train with and I’m excited to go down and train with a great group of athletes that are well-rounded and well motivated in every aspect of their lives and that’s definitely going to be a good environment that I want to put myself into.”

Best, a member of Guelph’s Speed River Track and Field Club, competed in the world youth championships in Colombia in 2015 and won a bronze medal at the world junior championships in Poland last summer.

“There are definitely highlight moments that I’ve had,” she said. “I’d say both my world competitions in Colombia and Poland. Those are definitely standout moments from a track perspective, but I think there hasn’t necessarily been one moment. It’s honestly been the collective group of people I’ve been with – my coaches, the athletes that I train with. They’re all supportive and the fun environment I’ve been in has just made it so enjoyable that I continue and will continue to enjoy the sport.”

Best is to compete for Centennial in the upcoming high school track and field season and has next week’s Royal City Invitational at St. James and next month’s District 10 championships there on her schedule.

She competed in last year’s New Balance Speed River Inferno for the Speed River club and hopes to compete in this year’s event in June, too.

“That was definitely such a cool experience, just looking at and kind of reflecting on the older athletes. They’ve been to many Olympics and just the experience they’ve had. That’s where I aspire to be one day, not only race but compete against these people.”