Winthrop University

'Mama Ashley' just what Eagles were looking for

Winthrop's Ashley Howard has become quite proficient at throwing her "weights" around.

Just check the numbers.

The junior from Wilmington, Ohio:

• Holds the school record in discus with a throw of 159 feet, 7 inches

• Has thrown the 20-pound weight 56-11 indoors, another school best.

• Has thrown the 8.8-pound hammer 143 feet, which is just shy of Tiffany Rice's mark of 144-1.

• Has thrown the shot put 41 feet, which is not bad considering this is her third-best event but one she desperately wants to improve.

Howard, who will be favored in the discus and hammer at this weekend's Asics/Winthrop Invitational at the Irwin Belk Track, has become the thrower assistant coach Brett Best felt she could be when he first saw her during her junior year at Wilmington High School.

"We were just cleaning up, getting ready for the meet and we found the legal pad coach Best took to Ohio for the state high school meet," Paxton said. "He had listed the people he was focusing on.

"Next to her name were stars, arrows and a notation 'this is a girl I want.' The way we recruit here at Winthrop is we typically do not get the blue-chip athlete, so we have to look for the kid we think has the potential to help us."

Besides Winthrop, Coastal Carolina, Central Michigan and some smaller schools in Ohio made overtures.

"I knew I wanted to go south to get away from the cold," Howard said. "I liked everything about Winthrop."

Paxton and Best liked everything about Howard, especially her work ethic, willingness to compete through injuries and a desire to be a leader, a quality she displayed as soon as she got to Rock Hill.

"She's a monster in the weight room and is always working to get stronger and improve," Paxton said. "She's always got an ice bag with her because she keeps getting some nagging little injury.

"I don't know what she would do if she was 100 percent healthy at a meet."

But it might be the role as leader that has impressed Paxton most.

"She's like a mother hen to both the women's team and the men's team," he said. "She wants everyone to be where they need to be when they need to be there."

That trait has earned her the nickname "Mama Ashley."

"It's my personality, it's who I am," Howard said. "If the bus leaves at 7 o'clock in the morning, I'm calling making sure everybody is up and ready.

"If they're running late, I'm calling and asking, 'Where are you?' Make sure everybody has what they need. It's like you're in college and you don't have your parents here to do things for you, so I've taken over that role. I don't want the coaches to have to worry about things like that."

Howard, a sports management major, had one big weight lifted off her shoulders last week in Charlotte when she threw the discus 159-1 in just the second meet of the year. That throw blew away the field and exceeded the distance the soft-spoken Howard needed to qualify for the NCAA Regionals.

"Last year, I waited to my very last chance that I could qualify, and that wasn't fun," Howard said. "I'm happy to get it out of the way, but I'm also kind of worried that I might be peaking too early.

"So I have to keep my tempo up, keep everything going right and make sure that at every meet I do a little bit better than the last meet so I'll know that I'm not peaking too early."

That's something neither Paxton, nor Best are concerned about.

"She's throwing well now, but we'll give her down time after conference, and then build her strength back up to get her ready to throw well in late May," Paxton said. "She'll be ready. I know she'll be ready for the regionals."

• NOTE: Because of the track meet, the Winthrop Golf Course will be closed today and Saturday. It will open at 8 a.m. on Sunday.