Ordinarily, Ashante Little’s performance at the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships would have made her a leading candidate for New Hampshire Union Leader Athlete of the Month for March.
Not this year, though.
That’s because the Seabrook resident and Winnacunnet High School of Hampton graduate has earned Athlete of the Month for February, and winners are limited to receiving the award — sponsored by Apple Therapy Services and Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center — no more than once a year.
The Union Leader Board of Judges voted the February award to Little after a month in which she recorded the fastest NCAA Division III times nationally in the 60-meter hurdles and 400-meter dash, as well as the second-fastest Division III time the 200 meters.
Turns out, she was just tuning up for the division’s biggest stage, last weekend’s national championships at Lincoln, Neb., where she won the 400 meters and placed fourth in both the 60-meter hurdles and 4-by-400-meter relay, earning All-America designation in all three events.
A senior at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., Little enters her final collegiate season — in outdoor track and field — with 12 career All-America citations and two national titles, having won the first championship last spring, also in the 400 meters.
Before beating the field in the Division III 400 meters, Little beat out an impressive field of nominees for February Athlete of the Month.
Finishing second was University of Arizona center Kaleb Tarczewski of Claremont, who averaged 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds during the month for the No. 4 men’s basketball team in the nation.
Finishing third was 2013 Union Leader Red Rolfe Female Athlete of the Year Eva Fabian of Keene, who tied for the most points in the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, with two first-place finishes, an individual second and a relay second.
Tied for fourth were Merrimack’s Rachael Carter, who averaged 23.5 points and 6.9 rebounds during the month for the Salem State College women’s basketball team, and Hanover’s Julia Krass, who finished 11th in freeskiing slopestyle as a 16-year-old high school junior making her Olympic debut.
Other nominees included Lebanon High track and field athlete John Cioffredi, Merrimack High basketball player Eric Gendron, Amherst College basketball player Connor Green of Bedford, University of New Hampshire basketball player Kelsey Hogan of Nashua, Keene State College swimmer Drew Ludwith of Keene, Bishop Guertin High of Nashua runner Molly McCabe of Brookline and BG basketball player Jamie Sherburne of Hudson.
Little began her run at the award by winning the 60-meter hurdles at the Springfield College Invitational in 8.98 seconds, with her preliminary time of 8.82 the best this season in Division III to that point.
The following weekend, at Boston University’s Valentine Invitational, she recorded another season’s-best time in Division III (55.8 seconds) while placing ninth overall in a field of 168 mostly Division I and II competitors in the 400 meters.
“There’s a misconception that Division III runners can’t compete with Division I and II,” Little said. “That’s definitely not the case. At all levels, there’s many good athletes in our sport.”
Returning to Boston University the weekend after that, she recorded the second-fastest 400-meter time ever in Division III, 54.82, during the Scarlet & White Invitational. In the same meet, she ran the sixth-fastest 200-meter time ever in Division III, 24.8 seconds finish, good for eighth place in another field of mostly Division I sprinters.
Finally, she won the 60-meter hurdles in the New England Division III Championships at Springfield College, tying her own personal record of 8.71 seconds, another Division III best this season.
Her honors during the month included two ECAC Division III Women’s Track and Field Athlete of the Week awards and a U.S. Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Division III National Women’s Athlete of the Week award for her performance in the Scarlet & White Invitational.
Before she left for the nationals last week, Little learned that she had been named the USTFCCC Division III New England Region Women’s Track Athlete of the Year. Once there, with a top-eight finish required for All-America status, Little took fourth in her first event at Lincoln, setting a personal record of 8.7 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles on Friday.
She topped that the following day, setting a meet record of 55.1 seconds in winning the 400 meters. She capped the meet later that day, leading a quartet that also included freshman Kelly Ludew of Lebanon, to another fourth-place finish, in the 4-by-400.
An African Studies major at Wheaton, Little plans to continue her education at Boston University in a graduate/professional studies program.
But first she has one more collegiate season in which to compete — and who knows how many more awards to win.
PREVIOUS 2014 WINNER: January — Jana Hieber, Goffstown, track and field.
To submit a nomination for New Hampshire Union Leader Athlete of the Month, email details to firstname.lastname@example.org, with “Athlete of the Month” in the subject field.