It was a warm, sunny spring afternoon on the Central Valley High School track. At one end, relay teams practiced handing off the baton and talked about steps and hand position. Pole vaulters practiced and discussed steps and plants, and high jumpers debated steps and whether or not their butts were up or down as they sailed over the crossbar.
As track and field practices go, this one was idyllic.
And Ashley Renz was having no part of it.
The senior distance runner was striving to keep her distance.
“I think it’s just a cold, but I’d hate to give it to you,” she apologized.
It’s what you expect from someone CV coach Dennis McGuire calls “one of the nicest girls you’ll ever meet.”
Renz did not start out running long races for the Bears. At first, she signed on to the spring sport as a freshman in hopes of improving her soccer game.
“I was playing soccer and playing a lot of club soccer, but I’d tried to try all of the sports when I was in middle school,” she explained.
Several things happened about that time, all converging to change Renz’s athletic direction.
For starters, the standout student began to feel the pinch between academics and the demands of playing soccer at a high level.
“My team was trying to get into premier and I was beginning to miss practices because of my class load,” she said. “I didn’t think it was fair to my teammates for me to not practice and still play in games.”
About that time, McGuire sent Renz out for a 5-mile training run.
“I think the most I’d ever run was about a mile,” Renz laughed. “I never thought I’d make it. I was just a freshman and I was running with a bunch of juniors, but they treated me like I was one of them – they helped me and encouraged me.
“In soccer, everyone was much more aware of class. But running, it didn’t matter.”
That, she says, is when she decided she was born to run.
And run she did. Renz ran a personal best 2-minute, 20.29-second 800 meters in a preliminary heat of the Eastern Regional meet as a freshman.
McGuire began a campaign to get Renz to give up soccer and run cross country.
“It took a while,” Renz said. “But coach McGuire is hard to say no to.”
What she found were kindred spirits and an athletic home.
“I loved the people who run cross country,” she said. “Practicing with my teammates has always been just like going out to practice with my sisters.
“The kind of people who run cross country are, without exception, some of the most incredible people. I think they all understand what it takes to run like that and they respect anyone else who does it with them. They may be goofy, and a lot of them are, but they’re disciplined and dedicated.”
Renz feels the same about this year’s track team.
“I’m excited about this team,” the senior captain said, brightening measurably at the notion. “We have a very talented team this year and the cool thing is that a lot of that talent is from freshmen and sophomores. CV isn’t just going to be good this year; we’re going to be pretty good for the next couple of years.
“We have some very good sprinters and I’m excited about our relay teams. We have depth in the distances and sprints and a great group of pole vaulters.”
Distance runners are notorious for playing psychological games on one another. They prefer to not just beat an opponent, not when there’s a chance to mentally break them in the process.
So, how does Renz maintain her well-deserved reputation for being nice and still being a fiercely competitive runner?
“I didn’t know I had that reputation,” she laughed. “The runners that inspired me were great runners, but after they won the race, they still turned around and congratulated everyone else in the race.
“They taught me that you could compete just as hard as you could during the race, but once it was over, you could still be gracious. I liked that and I appreciated that.”
Renz is busy wrapping up her high school career – taking special pleasure in the way a long training run can take her mind off the pressures of both completing her senior year and preparing for college.
She’s still undecided on whether or not she will run in college. And she’s in no hurry to make up her mind.
“Right now, I’m thinking that I will just wait and see how things go my freshman year,” she said. “See what demands my course load is going to make on me.
“I do know that I’m going to miss it. Especially my teammates. I’m going to miss my teammates the most – more than anything else.”