When Ashley New completed the first mile time trial of her high school career four years ago, the Lady Cardinal senior came in last by a not-so-close-margin.
"It has been quite a journey," New said. "I wanted to be good. I put in the work."
Just one year later she was the third best runner in the state and capturing the attention of top programs across the country.
One coach who saw her jump on the radar with that bronze-medal winning performance was Houston assistant Steve Magness.
"I think he found me sophomore year at the state track meet," New said. "I was the only long distance runner at their Junior Day."
With several offers to choose from, New signed her national letter of intent to run for the University of Houston on Feb. 5. She chose the Cougars over Alabama, Southern Miss, Kansas State and had interest from schools such as Notre Dame.
"I had a lot of schools in mind," said New, who will run the 3k, 5K, 10k and maybe the steeplechase in addition to cross country. "I was really overwhelmed but I made the right choice. I really love the coaches."
This past fall New finished eighth overall at the Class 3A state cross-country meet with a time of 11:59.60 to earn all-state honors as Melissa placed sixth.
She helped lead the Lady Cardinals to three straight state meet appearances and was 11th as a sophomore at 12:42.12 when Melissa was the Class 2A runner-up, just nine points behind Spearman.
New was 13th in the state in 12:36.70 as a junior as the Lady Cardinals were ninth in 3A.
As she closes out her career, there is a motivating factor. New came up just short of advancing to the state track meet as a junior when she finished third in both the 1600 and 3200 at the Region II meet. She was hoping for a wild card berth to have a shot at a second straight medal but didn’t end up heading to Austin by less than a second.
"I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen again," New said. "That was terrible. I’m usually good under pressure."
As a sophomore New earned a bronze medal in the Class 2A 3200 with a time of 11:20.96 when she charged from the back to pass the defending champion, Maria Salinas, to get on the podium along with teammate Rebecca Ulrich, who won the title. New just missed a silver, finishing 1.59 seconds behind Luling’s Carley Glass. After three laps New was in seventh place and didn’t move into third until the start of the final lap.
Houston is one of the premier track and field programs in the country. The Cougars have been represented 41 times in 13 Olympics since 1956. The women’s team placed third during the outdoors season in 2013 in Conference USA and has been fourth or better in the conference each of the past three seasons. Houston has eight conference indoor and outdoor titles.
At the NCAA championship level, the women’s program has earned points at the Outdoor Championships in 11 of the past 16 seasons and overall has produced 13 NCAA champions and 212 All-America athletes.
Head coach Leroy Burrell is a gold medal winner, former world record holder in the 100 meter dash and been named Conference USA Coach of the Year 23 times before the program moved to the American Athletic Conference this season.
Among the eight assistant coaches is Carl Lewis, the most decorated track and field Olympian with 10 medals — nine gold — to go with 10 world championship medals.