Brasovan cherishes national title

It's the night before the 2007 Foot Locker Cross Country Championships and 80 of the nation's best runners -- 40 boys and 40 girls -- have assembled for a celebratory dinner.

Excitement is in the air. Emotions are running high. Expectations are lofty. Everyone is nervous. And Ashley Brasovan is at the dessert counter.

While most of the other runners have shied away from the sweets, intent on eating the perfect meal before the biggest race of their lives, the Wellington harrier's sweet tooth has taken over.

"I was one of only two or three girls who ate dessert," she says. "I think it gives me strength."

The next morning, Brasovan went on to win the national title. Was it the dessert? "Possibly," she says, and you get the sense she thinks that might be true. After all, the 4-foot-11 senior distance runner is still getting used to the idea that she's the nation's top girls' cross country runner.

It might have been the sweets, but it's more likely that the years of hard work finally paid off. Brasovan is a three-time Class 4A state cross country champion, but until last season she had never advanced past the Foot Locker South Regional. Winning the national meet was never really her goal.

"My freshman year, I really wanted to just make it to Foot Locker (nationals)," Brasovan says. "But I didn't make it. Then my sophomore year I tried, but I didn't make it again. My goal last year was just to qualify and maybe finish in the top five."


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She qualified easily, placing sixth at the South Regional and punching her ticket to San Diego. But winning nationals never crept into her mind -- she says she didn't think about it once until she caught up to perennial title threat Jordan Hasay of California, the 2005 champion.

"I caught her on a hill and I started thinking, 'I can't believe this is happening. I have a chance to win,'" Brasovan says.

That gave her a momentum boost and added motivation to keep pushing. A few minutes later, she was the national champion, something that hasn't totally sunk in yet.

"It's still shocking," Brasovan says. "I can't believe I can look back at history books and say that I won the Foot Locker National Championships."

Neither can Wellington cross country coach Kara Weber-Fleming, who inherited the job of mentoring the talented Brasovan just last season. Only a few months after accepting the position, she was the coach of a national title winner. But according to Weber-Fleming, there isn't much to it.

"She pretty much has her own schedule," Weber-Fleming says of Brasovan. "There's no coaching her running, really. It's more of a mental coaching, letting her know that she can do it. She already had the talent."

Her talent for the sport started as a simple training routine when she tried out for the middle school track team in sixth grade. "It was just two months out of the year," Brasovan says. "I only did it because I thought it would make me better for swimming. It was kind of fun -- we just played duck-duck-goose and drank Capri Sun."

Safe to say it's a little more involved than that now. Brasovan gave up swimming to focus exclusively on cross country and track. She developed a passion for racing and began training year round once she started having success. Soon, she was a state champion. Now, she's a national champ.

The question is whether she can do it again. This year she will be one of three former champs -- seniors Hasay and Tennessee speedster Kathy Kroeger are the others -- vying for another national title. Brasovan holds the distinction of being the defending champ heading into what may be the most competitive season in the history of girls' cross country.

The easygoing Brasovan isn't worried about it. "I just want to make it back there and have fun," she says. "I'd love to win it again, but there will be 39 other girls who want it, too."

Brasovan concedes that things have changed a little since she won the national title. She gets no shortage of attention at her races, constantly under the scrutiny of competitors and people simply wanting to see a national champion in action. "I feel a lot of staring and whispers," she says. "I'm getting used to it. It's kind of cool sometimes."

People have even asked her for an autograph. "Not many 17-year-olds can say that," she says. "I've had to do it a few times. I just use my normal signature, but maybe I should come up with a cool one or something."

Brasovan likely won't have time to perfect her signature this year. In addition to her college search -- she was uncommitted as of press time -- she is working toward winning a fourth consecutive state crown and defending her national title. Yet she seems completely unaffected by the pressure.

"She's very modest," Weber-Fleming says. "She doesn't show a lot of emotion and she doesn't let things bother her."

Weber-Fleming makes sure to test Brasovan's ability to handle adversity. This past track season, the coach raced her star runner in situations she wouldn't win -- such as 200 and 400 sprint races -- to put her "in an uncomfortable zone."

Brasovan battled injuries during the spring as well, but she was healthy enough to capture her third consecutive Class 4A state crown in the 3,200. In June, she won the 5,000-meter race by nearly a minute at the Nike Outdoor Nationals.

But now the focus is back on cross country season, and Brasovan is ready. She scaled back on her summer training and races, hoping to be as fresh as possible for the end of the season in order to make another run at the national title.

In other words, she's saving room for dessert.

Christopher Parish covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.