By Gideon Rubin
Torrey Pines cross country standout Ashlyn Dadkhah has been a key role player in one of the county’s most dominant programs ever since making the varsity as a freshman.
She’s now taking on a bigger role.
After graduating cross country titans Erin Gillingham in 2008, Megan Morgan in 2009 and Alli Billmeyer earlier this year, the Falcons are counting on Dadkhah to take on a leadership role she’s never had to assume in previous years.
“It’s definitely going to be different for me,” Dadkhah said. “Before I had older (teammates) who were role models for me, and that helps me realize that this is my time.
“I need to take that leadership (role) and kind of follow in their footsteps.”
All indications are that, so far, Dadkhah appears to have embraced her new role.
“She’s been very good with her teammates,” Falcons cross country coach Brent Thorne said. “She’s able to balance her own determination with what she wants to accomplish while recognizing where everybody else is at in their development.”
Dadkhah has been handed the keys to what from a high school sports standpoint is the equivalent of a Lamborghini. The Falcons have been one of the state’s most successful programs over the last decade, winning the state title in 2009, and capturing five consecutive San Diego Section Div. I titles from 2005 to 2009.
And by all accounts those keys are in very capable hands.
Dadkhah is an early favorite to win the Palomar League, and is considered among the top contenders to win the section championships.
She placed fifth in the section finals last season, clocking a 16 minute, four second time on a 2.75 mile course at Morley Field.
“I think living in the shadows of those kinds of girls can work in different ways,” Thorne said. “Now that she’s on her own, I just see her highly motivated, and really focused on what she wants to accomplish.
“It could be a very good year for her.”
It could be a very good year for the Falcons, too.
Although losing Billmeyer will hurt, Torrey Pines graduated just three seniors and returns six of its top seven runners from last season.
Other key returnees include juniors Kelsey O’Connell and Tori Casella, and sophomore Marina Kemper. Freshman Taylor Seamans projects to make an impact, as well.
Dadkhah said that her former teammates have inspired her to become an effective leader. She said that style matters less in the leadership department than caring for teammates and a will to bring the team together.
“Someone who doesn’t just focus on themselves and thinks more about the team,” Dadkhah said when asked what makes an effective leader.
“Everybody’s different. Megan’s leadership (style) was different than Ally’s leadership. It’s not just the running aspects, but showing people that you care, and that you want them to do well.”
Dadkhah has demonstrated that commitment to caring for her teammates in early season workouts, Thorne said, noting that Dadkhah has approached him with concerns about how to push her teammates in practices.
“She’ll come to me and say why aren’t we doing more?” Thorne said.
“She doesn’t know how to approach her teammates with that yet, so she’ll bring it to me, which is good because it shows a concern about the overall team versus just ‘Well I don’t care how they run, I’m just going to take care of myself.’ She wants the whole team to do well.”
Dadkhah herself has a bright future in cross country.
She’s being recruited by several Div. I programs, and her stellar academics gives her additional options. Dadkhah has a 4.09 GPA and plans to major in biology. She’s considering a career in forensic science down the road. She’s getting looks from several Ivy League schools, and other top schools including UC Berkeley. Her top choice is Harvard.
But right now she’s focused on helping keep up Torrey Pines’ winning tradition.
Dadkhah acknowledged that there is some pressure that comes with her new role, but she has a pretty good idea of where she wants to take her team.
And following the footsteps of some of the program’s leaders in recent years is a nice start, she said, noting that team dinners on nights before meets will likely remain a Falcons tradition as long as she has a say in the matter.
“There were so many team-bonding aspects of our team,” she said.
“It wasn’t something we did because we felt that we needed to, we did it because we wanted to do it. I think that’s the biggest way they influenced me.”