By SCOTT DAVIDSON
WARSAW – Ashley Erba has invested so much in her life’s passion of running.
The WCHS distance dynamo expects her dedication and desire to be the best to pay off handsomely come Friday evening in Bloomington.
Erba is the top seed and the one to beat in the 3,2000 meter run for the 39th annual state track and field finals to be contested at the Robert C. Haugh Track and Field Complex on the Indiana University campus.
Erba, who won the state championship in cross country last October in Terre Haute, knows she is ready to do big things when the race commences at 8:15 Friday night.
“I can’t wait,” said Erba following practice Tuesday night at WCHS. “This is the most confident I’ve ever felt going into a big meet. I’ve put in the preparation and I’m ready to go.”
Erba, a junior, has high goals as the favorite in the field for the two-mile. Her top seed time of 10:33.61 is three seconds faster than the next best competitor. Erba ran a school and sectional record time of 10:31.16 two weeks ago, which was not only the fastest time in the state this year, but also the eighth best mark in state history.
“I want to win the state title, without a doubt that’s my first goal Friday,” Erba said. “I really want the state record too. I really believe I can get that record. I’m looking forward to going after it.”The state record in the 3,200 is 10:20.66 set by Waverly Neer of Culver Academy in 2011.
Erba competed at state in 2011 as a sophomore as she placed 20th in the 1,600 meter run. She then had a strong summer of training, followed by a breakout cross country season which culminated in her state championship performance some seven months ago.
All this from someone who was not even the top runner on her own cross country team as a 7th grader.
“Ashley never won a cross country race in 7th grade,” related WCHS coach Scott Erba. “But, it’s been a gradual process for her since then. She’s challenged herself, dedicated herself to running and it’s paid off.”
Anyone who has watched Erba meticulously prepare prior to a meet with her set routine and then seen her continue to hone her impressive skills long after a meet is finished, has seen firsthand the devotion and commitment she has to her craft.
“This is truly my passion,” said Erba. “It’s my No. 1 focus. I’ve invested so much into it. I made a decision a couple years ago that I wanted to be a great runner.”Coach Erba, is who also Ashley’s father and shares her passion for competition as a triathlete himself, sees an athlete whose commitment is unmatched.
“I’m not sure there is anyone who has put in as much effort into running as Ashley has,” said coach Erba. “It’s second to none. It is her passion and something she takes very serious. She’s put in the work.
“The thing is that I have never had to motivate her. There’s not been one day where I’ve had to tell her to train. She has challenged herself.”
Coach Erba also feels that his daughter is in a good place for Friday night. They scratched her from the 1,600 race after a second-place finish at regional so she could focus solely on winning a state title in the 3,200.
“She feels very good where she’s at both mentally and physically right now and that makes me feel good too,” said coach Erba, who is taking a strong group from his No. 14 team to State Friday. “She wants to accomplish her goals. She wants to add to her state championship total. When you invest more, you expect more.”
The younger Erba, like her father, likes to be in control. She plans and prepares everything that impacts her chosen sport.
“I want to know everything,” said Erba, who keeps a detailed journal that chronicles everything that plays a part in her success such as nutrition and sleep. “I’m very controlled and organized. I focus on all the little things. It’s been a gradual thing, but I’ve matured as a runner.”
Erba, who has the interest of many of the top college track programs in the country, sees Friday as a big opportunity.“I want my name to be one of those, like Alex Banfich or Waverly Neer, that people know when you mention it,” said Erba confidently, but not cocky. “I think I’m definitely getting there. I recognize that Friday is a huge stepping stone for that and for my running career.
“I do have high goals in mind. I want to achieve my best. I don’t step to the starting line in a race hoping to finish second.”
There’s no reason she should either.