By Chris O'Donnell
---- — NORTON — It was an afternoon for the ages, one the good folks of the Wheaton College Department of Athletics will remember with a lot of pride. What played out on the afternoon of the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championship will be told and retold long past senior Ashante Little’s Hall of Fame induction in five years or 10.
Little, a native of Seabrook, captured the NCAA Championship for the second straight year in the 400-meter dash Saturday afternoon in Lincoln, Neb. She was also named an All-American in three of the four events in which she competed and led Wheaton to a fourth-place finish in the team standings.
But, ever the perfectionist, Little couldn’t help but hint that there was room for improvement. Perhaps it is a self-reminder that she has the outdoor season to go, and this is her way of remaining focused and driven.
“I can’t say I’m a 100 percent satisfied with it, but in the moment I felt I had a good run,” Little said of the 400-meters. “I just needed to run my race. All I was thinking about was just getting out (to a good start). I didn’t think much during the race.”
Little’s championship celebration was slightly unorthodox the way it played out. It wasn’t as if she finished the race, crashed through the tape Olympic-style with her arms raised and a victory lap to follow.
As is common in the NCAA indoor championship, she ran in the first of two heats and finished in first place in a championship-record 55.10 seconds. While she watched the second heat, she was surprisingly calm, not because she knew the title was a lock.
“I trusted my training and the race,” Little said. “I felt good about it. There was strong competition, but I felt I did my job. I wasn’t worried. I did what I had to do.”
That’s not to say Little didn’t watch the second heat intently.
Her teammate (and roommate), Meredith Scannell, was in that heat and placed second (third overall) in 55.92 behind runner-up Hulerie McGuffie of UMass Boston, who ran 55.28. It was a good day for the Bay State.
“We wanted to finish first and second,” Little noted.
Twenty minutes prior to the 400-meters, Little placed fourth in the 60-meter hurdles in 8.70 seconds to earn All-America for the 10th time in her career. “I was happy with the run and to get a PR (personal record). I think once you digest it you can pinpoint what you could’ve improved upon. But I was definitely happy with the PR.”
Little’s finish in the 60-meter hurdles certainly primed her for the 400. They were 20 minutes apart.
She did not have that luxury on Friday when she ran the 200-meter preliminary, in which she finished 10th in 25.02 seconds, just 0.02 seconds short of qualifying for the final. Alas, it was her third race of the day.
“It just came down to focus,” she said. “The hurdles and the 400 (preliminaries) were 20 minutes apart, so I was still in the zone. After the 400, I allowed myself to step out of that mentality.”
Little refused to allow that to happen on Saturday in her fourth event of the weekend, the 4x400 meter relay, in which she and her teammates placed fourth in 3:50.43. Little ran a 55.5-second split.
“We were hoping for better, but we improved upon our time from earlier in the year,” she noted. “We did what we needed to do.”
Little, a 12-time All-American, is giving herself a whole two days rest this week before Wheaton opens the outdoor season Saturday at the Bridgewater State Invitational.