Sister act: Ash girls embracing final season together

Eastern Regional High School has been home to some of South Jersey’s most decorated athletes in the last two decades. The Ash sisters — state track standouts — are eager to add their names to the school’s rich sports history.

Eastern junior Jailya Ash and senior Jewel Ash are relishing the final months together in high school with eyes on leading the Vikings to the team’s first state title since 2003 this spring. They’ll compete at the Group 4 Indoor state championships this weekend. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

The main gymnasium at Eastern Regional High School is overcrowded with banners, not just recognizing teams, but individuals, too.

There are dozens of retired numbers, in football, field hockey, lacrosse and basketball. There are banners recognizing the Vikings who went on to compete in the Olympics, too.

One of those Olympians is English Gardner, a name synonymous with Eastern track and field. But if two current Vikings have their way, the names that roll off the tongue in Eastern track will be English Gardner and the Ash Sisters.

Jewel and Jailya Ash are in the final stretch of sharing a high school track together. Jewel, a senior, is headed to Charleston Southern University this summer. 

The two have already left a strong legacy at Eastern. Jewel Ash had a pair of school records before her prep career was half over and won the Group 4 state title in the 400-meter run last spring. Jailya Ash was crowned the best in the state when she won the 55-meter dash at the Meet of Champions last spring as a sophomore. 

Before they flash their respective talents at the Indoor Track Group State Championships on Leap Day, the Ash Sisters spoke to South Jersey Sports Weekly. 

South Jersey Sports Weekly: You two have the top two times in the state in the 55-meter hurdles this year. Are you ultra-competitive in everything you do?

Jewel Ash: It’s really only in indoor because outdoor, I mostly do the 400, the 400 hurdles and the 200. She focuses on the 100 and the 100 hurdles.

SJSW: What’s the earliest memory of that sibling rivalry? As the younger sister, were you always trying to outdo your older sister?

Jailya Ash: Yeah. We’d go to practice with our dad and he’d give us workouts. We’d be doing 400s, and I know I have terrible endurace and she doesn’t. But I’d still try to beat her the first couple of times and then she’ll come in and beat me. I had to get used to it. I just couldn’t keep up.

Jewel: It’s definitely the longer sprints I’m better in, for sure.

SJSW: Outside of sports, same competition?

Jewel: When we play Wii …

Jailya: Yeah, games. If we play games, it’s very competitive. Like “Just Dance.”

SJSW: Did your parents play sports?

Jewel: Both my mom (Dawn Betner Ash) and dad (Edward Ash) did. My dad played football and my mom did cheer, track, and basketball. My mom went to Haddon Heights. 

SJSW: So where did you get your athletic genes from?

Jewel: I wish I knew.

Jailya: Both of them? My dad did a little bit of track. They’re both very athletic.

SJSW: Do you each have track role models?

Jewel: (U.S. Olympian) Allyson Phoenix most definitely for me, in the 400 especially. And (U.S. Olympian) Sydney McLaughlin in the 400 hurdles would me mine.

Jailya: Mine would be English Gardner.

SJSW: Yeah, that makes sense. She set the bar pretty high here at Eastern. But your Meet of Champions 55-meter time of 7.06 was only a few clicks away from Gardner’s 7.03. That’s some serious business. Is that a goal, to top one of her times?

Jailya: Yeah, I definitely want to beat her records, especially in the 100.  That’s a real goal I want to accomplish before I graduate.

SJSW: Let’s talk about your teammates. Who is the most improved runner in the last year?

Jewel: Ariana.

Jailya: Yeah, Ariana Tait.

Jewel: She definitely was the reason why we won shuttle hurdles this year in our Group State Relays. Because if there wasn’t an Ariana, there wouldn’t have been a shuttle hurdles team. No other girl on the team wanted to; she volunteered to do hurdles, and she improved a lot. I don’t care how good we are, there wasn’t a fourth person without her.

Jailya: Before she was just a distance runner, she ran the 800. It’s crazy.

SJSW: Who is the smartest person on the team?

Jailya: Noelle Scott.

SJSW: How about the funniest?

Jewel: On the boys side, it’d definitely be Tavion Corbett-Collier. He’s hilarious. 

SJSW: Who is the best athlete at Eastern?

Jewel: Overall? That’s really difficult. Because everyone is good in their own aspects. But I think overall, because she does so many different sports, I’d have to say Kelli McGroarty. 

SJSW: Yeah, she plays three different sports (Editor’s note: McGroarty was the Gatorade Soccer State Player of the Year as a junior and recently scored her 1,000th career point in basketball). 

Jewel: Exactly, she does a lot of different things. 

SJSW: It’s a tough question. Even within track, athletes can compete in different events and specialties. 

Jewel: Exactly. I do a lot of different things within, but I wouldn’t ever name myself as the best athlete, because there are definitely other girls who put in just as much time and effort into their sports as me.

SJSW: What’s your favorite thing about your sister?

Jailya: She’s funny. Sometimes.

Jewel: She’s pretty funny looking.

Jailya: That wasn’t funny. And I said something nice (about you).

Jewel: Yeah, you said I was funny. You laughed at my joke. 

SJSW: That’s some serious sibling bickering there. What are your favorite things to do outside of track?

Jailya: Cheer. 

Jewel: I sleep.

Jailya: Yeah, I cheer. I used to do it competitively but I missed Meet of Champs my freshman year. So I only do high school cheer now.

Jewel: But mine would have to be sleeping. I’m so sleep-deprived. School work, track, then school. So I enjoy sleeping.

SJSW: If you could add any South Jersey athlete to Eastern’s team, who would you add?

Jailya: That is a great question. 

Jewel: I’ll say it: I’d have to say Lauren Princz (Egg Harbor Township).

Jailya: Yes! I’m telling you we’d have the best relay team, everything.

Jewel: That’s (Jailya’s) most competitive rival this year. 

SJSW  How about if you could form your own …

Jailya: Relay? Yes! It would be me, Jewel, Lauren Princz and I would say Janeya Hammond. That would be the best relay ever.

SJSW: They should have a South Jersey All-Star Meet where we could do that; it’d be fun. 

Jewel: Exactly.

Jailya: It’d be the best relay ever.

Jailya and Jewel Ash have the top two times in the state in the 55-meter hurdles this winter. Jailya Ash, a junior, won the 55-meter dash at the Meet of Champions last spring, with a time of 7.06, just a few clicks away from U.S. Olympian and Eastern alum English Gardner’s 7.03. (RYAN LAWRENCE/South Jersey Sports Weekly)

SJSW: Do you guys have pre-race superstitions or meals?

Jewel: I usually don’t eat before I run; if I do it can make me nauseous. So if I do, probably eggs or something.

Jailya: I usually eat a bagel, a buttered bagel and some water.

SJSW: Do you have a TV show you’re into right now?

Jewel: I have so many but I’m going to have to say “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Jailya: I’m currently watching “All-American.”

SJSW: Best movie you’ve seen recently?

Jailya: “Queen and Slim.”

Jewel: Mine isn’t recent, it’s really old, but “The Notebook” is my favorite movie.

SJSW: Last question. If we’re at the Meet of Champions, and when you go up to collect your medals, they’ll play whatever song you want. What’s your walk-up music?

Jewel: “Dedication” by Nipsey Hussle.

Jailya: I don’t know what it’s called but it’s the one that goes [begins singing] Dooon’t stop … believin … 

SJSW: That’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. That’s old school.

Jailya: Yeah, I don’t know, that just seems great to walk in to.