24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Ashley Liverpool

April 21, 2011

Worth Watching: A. Liverpool

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — About the only time you can keep up at a track meet with University of Iowa freshman Ashley Liverpool is when she is calming pre-race nerves and listening to “pump-up” songs.

Inch close enough and you might hear Lil’ Wayne call for lights, camera, action, because show time nears. Or maybe you will hear Nicki Minaj sing, “I will retire with the ring, And I will retire with the crown, No, I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”

If the music is blasting in the headphones it won’t be long before Liverpool runs a race like it is her last. Perhaps Chris Brown should paraphrase that line for his popular hit single.

Lil’ Wayne, Minaj and Brown do their part to help Liverpool concentrate on races at hand. Her individual drive and talent gets her to the finish line — quickly.

“I try to stay to myself. I don’t really get loud,” said the soft-spoken Liverpool who lets her spikes do most of her talking. “I listen to my music and envision what I’m going to do and how I plan on running.”

Liverpool has been sprinting fast during her rookie season as a Hawkeye. After bringing home two silver medals from the Big Ten Conference Indoor Championships in February, she has picked right up, blazing to a career-best 53.87 seconds in the 400-meter dash at the LSU Invitational on April 2.

“We were pretty close to winning the (conference) title in the indoor season,” UI assistant coach Clive Roberts said. “But rather than looking at titles, we’ll try to push her body to the limit to see what she’s capable of doing. I try not to give my kids numerical goals — let’s come every day and try to get better. Let’s try to be better than the day before, and let’s see what our bodies are capable of, and everything else will fall into place.”

Liverpool has also been an essential component of the UI sprint relays. The Hawkeyes have run 3:36.52 in the 1,600 relay and 45.77 in the 400 relay.

A native of Cincinnati, Liverpool set six school records at Walnut Hills High School. The Eagles won the 1,600 relay at the 2008 Ohio state championships when she was a sophomore and Liverpool was runner-up in the 400 dash as a junior and senior.

That success led to interest from college coaches from Virginia, Cincinnati, New Mexico State, Southern Illinois and Iowa. Roberts said the Hawkeyes got into the recruitment of Liverpool during December of her senior season and he immediately liked what he saw.

“The first time I laid eyes on Ashley was online, watching her compete and one of the things I saw was the last 200 she came on really hard and that showed me she had a little bit of a competitive fire,” Roberts said.

That competitive fire — combined with some impressive foot speed — has made her one of the most promising young sprinters in the Big Ten Conference. Her 54.79 clocking at Big Ten indoor was second to Ashley Kelly of Illinois (54.54); the Iowa 4×400 unit of Liverpool, Tiffany Hendricks, Nicole Erickson and Bethany Praska was runner-up to Penn State with a time of 3:40.38.

“I’m happy, but I’m not satisfied with that,” Liverpool said. “I wasn’t first, but second is a start. At Big Ten outdoor, I’m looking to get first in the 400. First is right there, so now I’m working to get it.”

“A lot of people (say) — `hey, as a freshman getting second in the conference is a huge deal’ and it is, but at the end of the end of the day, they don’t rank you by being a freshman, junior, senior, sophomore. We don’t look at that as if this person has more experience than that person, we look at hey, if every day we improve and coach puts you in the right situations throughout the season, then when you get to the conference meet, hopefully you have acquired the skills to compete. She did and obviously it worked out pretty well for her at the conference meet.”

Like many students leaving high school, Liverpool said she was searching for a unique mix of an institution that was far enough from home, but close enough to home.

“I came on my visit and I really liked what I saw,” Liverpool said. “I liked the girls on the team and coach Roberts seemed to know what he was doing; academics looked pretty good and the Big Ten Conference is a really big conference, so I wanted to be part of that. It looked like a place I could excel academically and athletically.”

An accomplished soccer player, Liverpool is no stranger to baseball diamonds, either. He stepbrother, Jacob May, is a freshman on the Coastal Carolina baseball team; her stepfather Lee May, Jr., is batting coach for the Cleveland Indians’ AAA affiliate, and her step-grandfather Lee May spent 18 seasons in the major leagues, hitting 354 home runs.

Because of that, it is hard for many family members to get away to watch Liverpool compete. Her mother attended the Big Ten indoor championships and she intends to be in Iowa City for the conference outdoor meet May 13-15.

The Indians broke spring training camp from Goodyear, Ariz., a week before Liverpool and the Hawkeyes competed at the Sun Angel Classic in Tempe. Liverpool finished fourth in the 400 and the Hawkeyes were sixth in the 1,600 relay. Last weekend at the War Eagle Invitational, she was fifth in the 400.

Liverpool is currently fourth on Iowa’s all-time outdoor 400 leaderboard, trailing Kineke Alexander (51.35), Shellene Williams (51.94) and Ellen Grant (52.65). Alexander is an eight-time All-American, five-time Big Ten champion, 2006 NCAA indoor national champion and 2008 Olympian for St. Vincent and Grenadines. That’s pretty lofty company for a 19-year old.

Adjusting to the intense, vigorous competition in college has taken some time for Liverpool.

“In high school you’re the best and then coming to college, there are a lot of people better than you,” Liverpool said. “It’s mental: you have to believe that you can be successful. It’s also physical, like eating right and coming to practice with a good mindset.”

Liverpool is studying psychology and exercise physiology.

The Hawkeyes host Musco Twilight XII on Saturday at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track. Field events begin at 2 p.m. with running events starting at 3:30.