Track and field: New Rochelle's Ashley Wiggins grows into UConn-bound star

Track and field: New Rochelle's Ashley Wiggins grows into UConn-bound star


Track and field: New Rochelle's Ashley Wiggins grows into UConn-bound star



The family members gathered around her behind the table in the athletic office, wearing their smiles and their pride. The guest of honor in the blue UConn T-shirt, the reason for the balloons and the congratulatory banner overhead, signed “Ashley Wiggins” on her National Letter of Intent.

And the emotions ran through New Rochelle’s state-champion hurdler and all-America relay runner at that moment during Thursday’s ceremony. The baton will soon be passed from high school to college. This 17-year-old senior is going from “Huguenot to a Husky,” as she likes to say.

Full ride to Connecticut.

“I felt like crying,” Wiggins said. “I was tearing up. I’m just so happy that I’ve accomplished this. On to the next accomplishment.”

The thing was, this Division I-sized accomplishment was in danger at one point of not happening. But over the course of these past three years, Wiggins has grown in so many ways.

Athletics. Academics. Attitude.

“I’ve come very far,” Wiggins said. “Very, very far.”

Back in her freshman year, it was coming up on the spring season, and Wiggins had reached an intersection. Her mom was ready to yank her from the team.

Grades were the biggest hurdle back then for the daughter of Cheryl Tugman and Levon Wiggins and the stepdaughter of Barrington Tugman. The marks were running very low and she was missing classes. She was unable to find the balance between studies and track.

“Caribbean parents, our grades were so important that I was willing to pull her off the team so she could focus on academics,” her mom said.

Andy Capellan, the architect behind this great girls program at New Rochelle who’s now in his 34th year as coach, met with Cheryl Tugman and Ashley’s grandmother, Carlys Mullings. Wiggins stayed on after Capellan provided some assurances.

“Look,” Capellan told them, “I’ve had a good record with getting good athletes into college. Leave her to me. I have certain rules about the team. She’s going to be on progress reports. If I see something’s wrong, she’s not going to participate in a meet.”

Wiggins found her way. Take this school year. She made the honor roll after her last two report cards, earning an 89 average. She was overjoyed recently when she gave a news flash to Cheryl about her grade in one class for the latest marking period:

“Mommy, I got a 97 in calculus.”

“I couldn’t do it without my family and my coach,” Wiggins said. “I’ve just matured with my behavior, with grades and even with track, my discipline with track.”

Wiggins took Capellan’s coaching and poured her sweat into perfecting a difficult event. Her speed, grace and effort merged at the point of state and Federation championships indoors in the 55-meter hurdles and outdoors in the 100 hurdles as a junior. She also claimed four all-America awards for doing her fair share in the 800 and shuttle hurdle relays.

Now she’s ranked third in the country in the 55 hurdles. And she has that scholarship.

“It’s the fruition of planting the seed and it grows into this beautiful performer,” Capellan said.

This performer received some letters from colleges in her junior year, according to Capellan. But the field needed to be limited.

You see, Wiggins has two long-range goals. One is to compete in the Olympics. The other is to become a pharmacist.

“I got a lot of calls from like Villanova, Syracuse; they didn’t have my major,” Wiggins said. “So I looked into several schools that had my major.”

Capellan worked to drum up interest from those schools, speaking to coaches and sending letters and emails. South Carolina didn’t follow up after a conversation at outdoor nationals last June. Kansas, Texas, Miami and Florida didn’t respond to his overtures.

But Connecticut chased hard. Rutgers, Temple and Buffalo did, too.

“You have to ask yourself: Would you still be happy there if you weren’t running track?” Capellan said to Wiggins.

She had an idea of the answer practically faster than it took her to run her best 55 hurdles late last month: 8.03 seconds.

There was an unofficial visit to UConn last August.

“I literally saw one block of the campus and I fell in love,” Wiggins said.

Her official visit came one weekend in October. She met the women on the team, including former Suffern star Sarah Bowens, now a sophomore jumper/hurdler.

“They’re so nice,” Wiggins said. “They made me feel like part of the family. I can see they take care of their athletes. It’s like one big family.”

She spoke with the man recruiting her, Huskies sprints and hurdles coach Clive Terrelonge, who had watched videos of her dating to her sophomore days when she was a Loucks Games champ. She had felt a comfort level with him all along.

There would be no visits elsewhere. She told Terrelonge she was orally committing then and there.

“Wow,” Terrelonge said. “That’s great.”

One thing about Wiggins: She’s driven to keep improving. And she will need to do that. She will find a lot of high-caliber athletes in the college lanes next to her. The competition level is headed upward.

“Listen, I love this challenge,” Wiggins said.

Cheryl’s parents, Carlys and Donald Mullings, were among more than 30 relatives, administrators, staff, coaches, teammates and friends in the room for the signing. Wiggins will be the first of the Mullings’ eight grandchildren to go to college.

“I give thanks to God for all of this,” Cheryl said.

Capellan stood in front of everyone there and spoke of Wiggins’ early crossroad; of her ultimate desire to be great and her putting faith in him to get her there; about how she forced him to become a better coach by having to learn about more drills to give her because she wanted more work.

Finally, Capellan turned to this girl who grew up right in front of his eyes.

“Congratulations,” he told Wiggins. “Thank you for fulfilling my dreams.”

Twitter: @bheyman99


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