Cypress Creek High School senior Ashleigh Lacey will graduate as her school’s valedictorian, with a perfect 4.0 unweighted GPA (and 4.6 weighted).
Armed with an Associate of Arts degree and Bright Futures scholarship, the accomplished student soon will attend University of South Florida’s (USF) Judy Genshaft Honors College with plans to attend medical school and become a psychiatrist.
The local teen’s aptitude, however, travels beyond the classroom.
She’s also a decorated varsity track athlete — boasting several Coyotes girls program records and milestones — while juggling a part-time restaurant job, to boot.
She most recently qualified for the FHSAA Class 2A State Track and Field Championships on May 8 at University of North Florida-Hodges Stadium in Jacksonville — after finishing second place in the 300-meter hurdles (46.78 seconds, school record) and third in the long jump (5.17 meters) at last weekend’s Regional 3-2A meet at Cypress Creek.
She also finished sixth in the 100-meter hurdles (16.86 seconds, school record) and seventh as a leg of her team’s 4×100-meter relay (50.42, another school record) at the regional meet.
A strong regional showing wasn’t Lacey’s only notable achievement this season.
On April 22, she claimed her first District 9-2A individual title — and set another school record — in the long jump (5.28 meters), defeating Hernando High sophomore A’Reginae White (5.19 meters).
As it stands, Lacey holds seven school records in track and field.
In addition to long jump, 100-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles records and leg of the 4×100-meter relay, Lacey also has top marks in the 400-meter dash (1:04.56), 3,200-meter run (13:16.22), and high jump (1.45 meters).
She’s also known for becoming the first Cypress Creek girls track athlete to qualify for regionals, back in 2018, as a freshman.
“She’s littered through the record books,” Cypress Creek varsity girls track coach Steven Rivers said bluntly in a recent interview with The Laker/Lutz News.
Lacey’s well-rounded success doesn’t come by accident.
Rivers compared Lacey’s “enormous work ethic” in athletics and academics to another one of his former pupils — Pasco High product Alfreda Steele, one of the nation’s top sprinters as a graduate student at University of Miami.
“She is an extremely hard worker,” Rivers said of Lacey. “She brings a very positive attitude to the team, and she’s that girl that constantly wants to work, ‘Can I do more?’”
So much so, Rivers often reminds Lacey to not overtrain in practice, and not be too hard on herself when she doesn’t eclipse a certain mark or personal record.
“With Ashleigh, she never feels that she’s done enough,” the veteran coach said. “I have to tell her, ‘The hay is in the barn, now you just have to eat it.’ I have to keep telling her, ‘You have to stop trying to chase it. Just go out there, clear your mind, and run.’”
Ask Lacey, and she’s actually prouder of her physical achievements than intellectual ones.
Though academics are clearly important, success in track and field “is something I have to work harder for,” Lacey said.
She observed: “School is something, I don’t want to say it comes easy to me, it’s something I never really had to super grind at. I study for it, I organize my stuff, I write my notes, I learn the stuff; but for track, it’s just been a bit of a journey, it’s pretty hard, like there’s sometimes where I’m not always going to be the best at it, and it’s kind of more challenging for me and that’s why I like it more. I put more dedication into it, because it’s more about my diet and weightlifting, too.”
Hoping to be a walk-on at USF
Understanding that she’ll likely be going pro in something other than sports, however, Lacey is poised to major in psychology at USF en route to pursuing a doctorate in psychiatry.
Lacey was inspired by AP Biology and AP Psychology, her two favorite high school classes.
“I loved them. Both were so interesting to me, and I was like, well, for a career, I might as well think of something I like to do and think is interesting, and I want to help people,” she said.
Lacey hopes her academic profile, and versatility and proficiency in so many events allows her to walk on to the USF women’s track & field team, an NCAA Division I program.
The standout athlete would appear to be a prime candidate to shine in the heptathlon, in which competitors take part in the same prescribed seven events (100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin, and 800-meter run).
High school and AAU coaches have told Lacey as much, though she humbly admits she needs to practice javelin, in particular. “I think I need to work a little more at javelin before I can confidently say I can compete in it,” she said.
Rivers believes competing in track at the next level is well in reach, given Lacey “can do a bunch of different things.”
“The more you can do, the more of an asset that you can be,” Rivers said. “Walking on to USF, being able to do so many things, I’m sure they could possibly find a home for her, but where she would definitely improve (USF’s track and field program) is through her classroom work, their academic side.”
Lacey originally entered high school as a distance runner, competing in cross-country and endurance track events (800-meter, 1,600-meter, 3,200).
But, she experienced a change of heart competing in AAU summer events for Wesley Chapel-based Speed Starz Track/Running Club, following her freshman year.
“I really didn’t like it,” Lacey said of long distance events. “I was like, ‘Maybe I need to try something else,’ because I really love the 300-meter hurdles and I was like, ‘I need to get more into sprinting,’ and then that’s when the heptathlon got brought up, and that’s when I started sprinting and I loved it way more than long distance.”
Lacey credits her abilities in hurdles and jumps to lower body strength and an offseason weightlifting program.
Moreover, her background in gymnastics vault has helped translate to long jump’s mechanics of run up, takeoff, flight and landing.
Lacey explained of the technique, “You have to have the same steps to get on the board so you don’t scratch or anything, because a lot of girls will be really good (with long jump), but they’ll scratch and they won’t score well.”
Lacey now hopes to conclude her prep career with a strong showing against Florida’s best at this weekend’s finals.
She last qualified for the state meet as a sophomore, in the 300-meter hurdles and long jump, finishing 21st and 22nd respectively. She acknowledged being “humbled pretty quick” that time around.
Come this weekend, she may be humbling others.
Published May 5, 2021