NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

February 1, 2014

Little making waves

Seabrook's Ashante Little a standout athlete, mentor at Wheaton College

By CHRIS O'DONNELL
Correspondent

---- — Athletes like Ashante Little force Shawn Medeiros to work late Saturday nights writing about her exploits from that day’s track and field meet. She is constantly adding to his workload. A lot.

Medeiros is the sports information director/webmaster/all-things-PR guy at Wheaton College in Norton,and Little, a Seabrook, N.H. native, is one of the best female sprinters the school has ever had.

Little is also the kind of athlete Medeiros doesn’t mind talking about.

“She certainly doesn’t make it easy for me,” he joked. “I end up having to research a lot of things.”

By “things,” Medeiros means school records. Little has three so far – the outdoor 100 meter hurdles (13.89 seconds) and the indoor 500 meters (1:14.33) and 600 meters (1:37.09) – and is a whisker away from several more.

Little enters her senior indoor season having won the NCAA Championship in the 400 meters last May. She has goals that include an encore and those that stretch past college. She’s not exactly resting on her laurels.

“I think now that I’ve reached one of my goals, it has sparked a hunger for more,” Little explained. “I wouldn’t be satisfied settling with what happened last spring.”

A nine-time All-American, Little has virtually booked her place for the NCAA Championship in two events already, and it’s happening sooner than last season. She is racing in Division I meets and just beginning to post marks that are among the best in Division III.

Last week, Wheaton took part in the high-profile Boston University Terrier Invitational, in which she placed eighth in the 400 meter dash in 8.95 seconds. She was the only Division III athlete in the final which included two postgraduate and five Division I sprinters.

Little was also a member of the Lyons’ 4X400 meter relay team which placed 16th in 3:55.43, but tops among Division III schools.

She said she is far from reaching her peak, although her hurdles result two weeks ago at the Ramapo College Indoor Select, 8.85 seconds, is the second-fastest in Division III this season, as is the Lyons’ 4X400 result from BU.

“It’s still early yet,” she explained. “(The Terrier Invitational) was only our third meet of the season. The last two years, my PRs (personal records) have come at the very end of the season.

“We’ve started off strong, ahead of last year,” she added. “But there is still a lot of room for improvement. We’re in a good position. I’m so excited to see what happens the rest of the season.”

Realizing potential

Wheaton is a storied Division III program which has produced 45 national champions. The Lyons are ranked No. 10 in this week’s U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association poll.

Winning the NCAA Championship wasn’t something Little set out to do when she chose to attend Wheaton. She had a stellar career at Winnacunnet High School, but she figured track and field in college would just be something she did outside of classes.

That all changed her sophomore year when Dave Cusano was named the head coach. “I definitely didn’t imagine my college career would turn out the way it has,” Little said. “He has made me realize my potential and that I could accomplish some real big feats. He has had a huge impact on my career and experience at Wheaton.”

Winning the NCAA title in the 400 meter dash (54.79) last spring is a story in itself. How she won it was spectacular.

Little competed at the NCAA Championship in four events and earned All-American honors in all four. She also finished third in the 100 meter hurdles (14.31) and was a member of the 4X100 meter relay team which took third in 46.85 seconds; and the 4X400 team that placed fifth in 3:46.75.

“Without question it is one of the best individual performances I’ve seen over a track and field weekend,” Cusano said. “To run eight races in four days, to earn a PR, to be a four-time All-American and national champion, it was amazing.”

Little also qualified for the 200 meter dash, but opted not to run – a decision not lost on Cusano. “When we were talking about what would be beneficial at the NCAAs, Ashante was completely selfless,” he recalled. “She could’ve said she wanted to do the three individual events, but she didn’t. She was all about the team, the team score and her teammates having the best weekend they could. It was such a selfless act.”

Little admits to being a bit naive when it came time for her to apply to colleges, and credits her guidance counselor for steering her through the process. She also sings the praises of the academic support team at Wheaton, not that she has needed much – she earned a 3.4 last semester – but it has had such an impact that she plans to pursue academic advising as a career.

Little even spearheaded a mentorship program at Wheaton where the upper-class student-athletes meet with the freshmen and transfers on a regular basis to provide academic support and guidance.

“I wasn’t very educated about the process of applying to colleges. I would’ve been lost without help with my college applications,” noted Little, who is majoring in African, African-American and Diaspora Studies. “I’m very passionate about college athletics and academic advising. It’s something I want to pass on to somebody.”

Said Cusano, “She has singlehandedly started this program. It’s become her driving force. It’s her dream job. We’re a small liberal arts institution, so we don’t have a full-time person devoted to academic advising. I think it’s great. And she has really built it.”

More impressive, Little was recently chosen to serve on the University’s Presidential Search Committee, a 15-person panel.

“That’s a testament to her character,” Cusano noted. “For me being a coach, that’s as impressive as being a nine-time All-American and a national champion.”