Decker growing up quick as contributing true freshman

Freshman Ashlie Decker sits on the award podium Wednesday afternoon at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Freshman Ashlie Decker sits on the award podium Wednesday afternoon at Les Bolstad Golf Course.

Derek Wetmore

To an extent, Ashlie Decker personifies the Gophers womenâÄôs cross country team this season. SheâÄôs young, inexperienced, relatively under the radar âÄî and extremely talented. Decker, a true freshman, is one of the primary members that have caused this team to exceed expectations. Head coach Gary Wilson said itâÄôs not a matter of over-achieving; merely a case of Decker lived up to the coachâÄôs expectations right away. âÄúI donâÄôt think sheâÄôs surpassed any expectations; sheâÄôs a very talented runner coming in. We knew she was very, very good,âÄù he said. âÄúWhat we saw in her from the beginning of the recruiting process is exactly what we got.âÄù Decker ran good times in high school, Wilson said, but her college success to this point has been better. Wilson estimated that 85 percent of talented high school runners never pan out in Division I because of the attitude adjustment necessary for collegiate athletics. SheâÄôs steadily been improving her times on the season culminating in a 19th place finish at the Big Ten Championships. Even as a freshman without the benefit of a redshirt year to learn the ins and outs of the program, Decker has been consistently the fourth fastest runner for this yearâÄôs team, at times cracking the top-three. She puts an emphasis on the final kick of races when most runners are merely hoping to complete the race. At the Big Ten Championships on Halloween, she passed four runners in the final 200 meters of the race to boost the Gophers team score. âÄúThis year IâÄôve noticed for some reason that when I finish a race I canâÄôt stand up,âÄù Decker said. âÄúItâÄôs that thought that I couldnâÄôt have done any better; IâÄôve given everything I could to the point I want to fall over at the end of the race âĦ I canâÄôt really get that feeling in school,âÄù she joked. The team will count on Decker to continue her consistent performance this weekend at the NCAA Midwest Region Championships. Wilson said the team goal is to earn an automatic qualifier this weekend, but if the team finishes third or fourth, he still feels as though Minnesota has beaten enough quality teams this season to earn an at-large bid. Two teams from each of the eight regions across the country automatically qualify by placing in the top-two at this weekendâÄôs regional meet. After the 16 teams are decided, 15 more are selected at-large based on whom they defeated during the season, to expand the field to 31 teams. âÄúI think weâÄôve got enough points,âÄù Wilson said, âÄúbut itâÄôs a lot more fun to drive home when you know [youâÄôre in].âÄù Especially with some of the younger members on the team, nerves in a high-pressure meet can be difficult, but Decker said meets like the Big Ten Championships and the Roy Griak Invitational have prepared the team for big meets. Decker said that while she is confident for the teamâÄôs chances at advancing, she is nervous considering the uncertainty this weekend. âÄúI think itâÄôs just that thought that anything can happen,âÄù Decker said, âÄúknowing that if we donâÄôt run well this weekend, weâÄôre not going to be there at nationals.âÄù