Ashley Bridenbaugh was sporting some serious bling Tuesday afternoon at Oak Ridge High School.
The Maryville senior hit the track with a diamond stud in each ear for a scaled-down, three-team meet in harsh conditions. Meet officials would make Bridenbaugh and other competitors remove their jewelry before racing, but the point had been made.
Bridenbaugh is deserving of some time in the sun, Maryville track coach Nick White said. After what she’s been through the last two years, adding a necklace might not be out of line.
Bridenbaugh won the 300-meter hurdles going away at the William Blount Invitational last Friday. Her winning time of 46.32 seconds was nearly two full seconds faster than her nearest competitor, bringing with it a prestigious national ranking for the Lady Rebel flyer.
Bridenbaugh’s season-best 46.24, ran at a meet last month, is the fastest time for the event in the state this season.
It would be difficult for things to be going any better at this point in the season. Just two years ago, it all went scary wrong.
Returning from a national meet with her club team her sophomore year at Maryville, Bridenbaugh was seriously injured when the van in which she was riding struck a tractor-trailer on an interstate highway in Virginia at 1 a.m.
“The driver fell asleep,” Bridenbaugh said.
The resulting impact tossed Bridenbaugh from her seat, resulting in a fracture of her jaw in two places.
“I don’t know what I hit,” she said. “I just remember getting out of the car.”
The break required the insertion of two metal plates for the jaw to heal. For five weeks, the jaw was wired shut.
“It was awful,” Bridenbaugh said.
Her mom, Julie, came up with a winning recipe for a casserole - “The only thing I could eat,” Bridenbaugh said - to keep her going, but the accident “pretty much wiped out track” for that year, she said.
Bridenbaugh had qualified for the state meet as a freshman at Maryville, knocking two seconds off her best time in the hurdles in the preliminary round. She would have been a favorite to medal the following season. When she returned last season as a junior, a bout with mononucleosis early in the year slowed her until late in the campaign.
Reaching peak fitness late in the season, Bridenbaugh recovered enough form to help the Lady Rebel 4x400 relay crush the school record at last year’s regional meet. To do so, the Lady Rebel hurdler often cut back on individual events at meets to conserve her strength.
It’s one of the reasons White would like nothing better than to see Bridenbaugh go out with a bang this year at state. Lady Rebel sophomore Julia Petree, also a member of that relay, falls in the same category, he said.
“We hope Ashley and Julia can win because they sacrificed quite a lot last year,” White said. “If we can get fortunate enough for one of them to pull off a state championship, that would be icing on the cake.”
Running well at this point in the season is a welcome change, Bridenbaugh said, but there’s much of the season left. She’d really like to cut into her times by next month’s sectional meet, she said. She wants badly to medal at state.
“Definitely, it’s time,” Bridenbaugh said. “It’s time to bring it together. I don’t think I’d be satisfied unless I get to state and do well.”
Bridenbaugh isn’t likely to be the lone Blount County representative should she reach the state meet next month in Murfreesboro. Petree, Rebel distance specialists Jordan Chaney and Clint McKelvey and William Blount discus champion Madison Borden also met Elite standards for a national ranking at last week’s invitational. Only 10 athletes at the 13-school event would meet the requisite times and distances.
Petree sprinted onto the national map with a winning time of 57.98 in the 400-meter dash, going on to complete a sweep of the sprints with wins at the 100 and 200 distances. A part of last year’s record-setting relay - along with Bridenbaugh and current Tennessee Lady Vol freshmen Ellen Wortham and Ally Colvin - Petree can make sprinting look “almost effortless,” White said.
“Julia is just one of those kids who found out what she really wanted to do early,” he said. “She’s going to be a good one when it’s all said and done.”
Chaney and McKelvey outclassed the field in the boys 1600, pulling clear to finish one-two at 4 minutes, 21.31 seconds and 4:24.01, respectively. Borden proved the class of the girls’ discus, taking the final by 7 feet with a winning throw of 120 feet, 9 inches.
Bridenbaugh, who also took out a win in the invitational’s 100 hurdles, said she’s been addicted to running since her father, Gary, first introduced her to the sport long before she started school.
“My dad put me in a race when I was 5 years old,” she said.
Earrings or no, Bridenbaugh looks to be speeding toward the finish line of at least her high school career in style.