Patterson returns to running for PHS

Sophomore sprinter part of Little Tigers sweep

By: Justin Feil
   EWING — Ashadaya Patterson remembers with fondness her first runs.
   They weren’t in uniform for the Princeton High School girls’ track and field team. And they didn’t have any official start or finish lines. But it gave her a first thrill of running fast when she still lived in Trenton.
   "I always liked to run," Patterson said. "I used to run all the time down at the bike trail. We used to run down it and measure it."
   Patterson was ecstatic to find out she could compete officially when she came to PHS last year. There, she made her track and field debut.
   "That was my first year running," said the Little Tiger sophomore. "I never ran in middle school. I always wanted to. Freshman year was my first time.
   "This year," she added, "it feels like I’m pushed more because our upperclassmen left. Elesha (Casimir) left. They make me work harder in practice and stay focused."
   The practice has paid off as Patterson has developed into a steady points winner for the Little Tigers. She was the first in the 100- and 200-meter races and ran a leg of the winning 4×400 relay when scored against West Windsor-Plainsboro South in an 89-51 win over the Pirates on Tuesday. She contributed third-place points in a 79-60 win over Ewing as the Little Tigers swept the meet to improve to 5-0.
   "It was pretty challenging today," Patterson said. "There was more competition. We had to not just participate, but compete.
   "This was our toughest so far. We knew we were going to have to step up because Ewing has a good amount of sprinters. That helps me. It makes me go harder."
   Libby Bliss captured the 400 and 800 meters, Hannah Davis won the 400 intermediate hurdles and was third to Bliss in the 400, Molly Lynch won the two-mile, Kelly Curtis won the long jump and Nicolette Gengel won the pole vault.
   "Today we finally started coming back healthy," said PHS head coach Jim Smirk. "The order of the day was being aggressive. We talked about that today and yesterday and actually all week. We said, one way or another, we want a mistake to be made — either by us or by who we were competing against. It didn’t matter. The point is to go hard enough that a mistake is made. We saw that today. I’m real happy with how we did.
   "Hannah Davis finally broke out. She was being real cautious. She was having to take a lot of responsibility for a sophomore for us. Now that we’ve gotten some personnel back healthy, she was able to let loose. It showed today. She ran some great races. Libby is a perennial performer. And she did her job. We finally backed her up with everyone else."
   Patterson is happy to fit into the mix as the top short sprinter for the Little Tigers. She, Wiseman and Olivia Johnson swept WW-P South in the 100 meters.
   "We work together," Patterson said. "We need each other to win a race. It’s not just one individual that’s going to make us win. We don’t focus on just one person. We focus on the whole team."
   Added Smirk: "We’re finally starting to move in the right direction. It’s good. It is a big deal because these weren’t gimmes today. We had to go out and do the right thing. In terms of on the season, a lot of athletes were breaking out today."
   Patterson has kept her focus on doing all she can to improve herself over the last year. She competed for PHS in both cross country and winter track and field. Being a sprinter, cross country wasn’t one of her favorites, but it showed her dedication.
   "She hated every moment of it, I’m pretty sure, but she did it," Smirk said. "She’s more than just a great competitor on the track. She’s an awesome teammate. She’s always there for other athletes. When some of our younger runners are coming up and need to work on starts, she’s always there with them working on it.
   "Some of the more experienced runners, like any athlete trying to perfect something, you hit a lull. It’s frustrating. You hit a wall. She’s willing to stay and work as long as it takes to get through that. She’s a real positive influence to the team."
   Her desire to improve is what prompted her to try cross country. She has seen a benefit from it, even if it was a difficult three months.
   "Especially Mercer Counties, up that big hill," Patterson recalled. "It was something new. The endurance helped. I always said I wanted to do the (400). And now I’m able to push myself all the way through the 4. And I can actually finish my 2 this year."
   Patterson responded to a strong Ewing challenge with her best 200 time of the outdoor season. She’d like to move closer to her 26-second finish from indoors and with her work ethic, she should continue to move in that direction.
   "She was raw last year, but she had a ton of heart," Smirk said. "She would leave it on the track for you. Technique-wise, she’s worked really hard. She runs with a whole lot of guts, and it doesn’t matter what you ask her to do. She runs the 100, and she can go all the way up to the 4. If we ask her to run the two-mile, she’d probably do that for us."
   Patterson was scheduled to join her teammates at Penn Relays to run the 4×100 and 4×400 relays on Thursday. She goes down there more confident in herself after a year of competing.
   "Last year, I went down to watch to see what I’m going to do this year," she said. "I didn’t think I was ready last year. I didn’t want to drop the baton in the 4×1. Everything was kind of new to me. I wanted to see what was going on."
   Patterson has developed into a devoted member of the PHS track team. It’s a spot that she values, and the Little Tigers are happy to have her speed and work ethic on the squad.
   "She has some real positive goals for herself," Smirk said. "She’s the kind of athlete you always dream about, that kid that not only challenges herself physically on the track, but off the track, she looks to be a great student-athlete, not just an athlete. She’s a blast to have on the team. This team wouldn’t be this team without her."