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2021 BOYS XC RUNNER OF THE YEAR: Ethan Ashley, Denmark
Ethan Ashley
Denmark senior Ethan Ashley is the 2021 Forsyth County News Boys Runner of the Year after capturing the Class 7A state championship with a blistering time of 15:45. - photo by Noah Rubin

When was the last time Ethan Ashley lost?

He was a part of the 4x800 state champion track relay back in the spring. He went undefeated this cross country season and won state. Now, for the second consecutive year, he’s the Forsyth County News Boys Runner of the Year.

Ashley won all six cross country meets he participated in this season, which wasn’t something that even crossed his mind before the season.

“Honestly, that wasn’t even a goal coming into the season,” Ashley said. “It was just kind of get out there and do as well as I can, and after I started winning a couple, me and Coach Hudson decided let’s have the undefeated season. There was a runner last year who had a very similar season, so I was kind of setting the goal to mimic his season. It was just awesome to get out there. There were definitely races I had my doubts. Asics was a big one where I came in, just not sure what was gonna happen. But you know, trusted the work that we put in and had a little bit of guts to finish it out at the finish line. It’s a huge blessing to be able to say that I finished the season undefeated.”

Ashley won that Asics Invitational with a time of 15:18.18. The second place finisher? Edward Blaha from Pace Academy, who finished at 15:18.19.

Ashley won the state championship with a time of 15:45, which was nearly 25 seconds ahead of second place.

While this season has been a memorable one for Ashley because of the accolades and accomplishments, the legacy he’s leaving behind is just as important to him.

“It’s been an awesome experience just working with the coaches and working with the team,” Ashley said. “We had a bunch of young guys come in this year, so it was awesome to kind of build them into the program, knowing it was my last year, knowing that I wasn’t going to be around for another cross country season. Me and the Anderson twins [Tavian Anderson and Xavier Anderson] really tried to set the tone for what we wanted the team to be after we leave. I feel like we did a really good job of setting the example, and the younger guys really bought into that with the help of the coaches. I feel like we had some good success, but we’re going to continue to keep having success after we leave.”

Ashley’s success has been vital for the growth of a Denmark team that won the region and finished third in the state. But it’s how he invests in the program, even though he’ll be gone come May, that has separated them from the rest of the pack.

“I would say leading by example,” Ashley said. “Just me and the twins, showing up everyday, putting in the work. They respond really well to that, and they see that we have the same goals and the same drive. So, just getting them to buy into the program and trust the training, trust what we’re doing everyday, and then seeing the results. We had great performances at region and at state. I think that really encouraged the guys and made them realize that we’re doing the right thing here.”

Although high school cross country may be over for him, Ashley and his team still have lofty goals for track season.

“We definitely have some big goals, just based on how this season went,” Ashley said. “Coach Hudson and I haven’t really sat down and nailed all of them out. But get some more state titles, maybe look at some state records, and see how well we can get the team to do, building on the success from this season.”