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Iliff taking her talents to King College in the fall

NEWTON _ Ashley Iliff was a first grader, probably all of six years old, when she requested more time with her father.

It seems that Ashley missed her dad, Andy, when he was spending long hours coaching wrestling at Newton High School.

Iliff's mom, Theresa, insisted that Andy take Ashley along. In no time, Ashley was as involved as her father, perhaps even moreso.

"They used me as a wrestling dummy," Ashley said.

She fell in love with wrestling and, one year later, made it to the finals of a tournament.

"It was pretty cool," Ashley said.

This spring, after four seasons of wrestling for the Braves, three as a starter, all of Ashley's time spent on the mats paid off. She signed a letter of intent to wrestle for the women's team at King College in Bristol, Tenn.

"Ashley put in a lot of years," said Andy, an assistant wrestling coach and math teacher. "There was a payoff. She got a scholarship. Girls wrestle when they're young and give it up. They become frustrated because the guys are getting stronger."

Not Ashley. She persisted despite the unkind words and strange looks that came her way. Wrestling in the 103 and 106-pound weight classes as a junior and senior, she went 17-14 and 13-9, respectively.

There were times when wrestlers from opposing teams forfeited to her. They made snide comments. Sometimes, the boys cried after losing to her.

"When I wrestled in the county, people knew me and expected a competition," Ashley said. "The ones that didn't were the problem."

According to Andy, the 5-foot-4 Ashley, a peer leader and member of the student council, simply pushed onward.

"Every once in awhile, we'd get a disparaging remark from a kid, coach or parent," said Andy, who won state titles in 1986 and 1987. "They were trying to hurt Ashley which isn't very sportsmanlike. She was good with it. She shrugged it off and moved on."

Her Newton teammates and coaches, on the other hand, were supportive and encouraging. Many of them are her close friends.

What makes Ashley so good is her technique. Her father noted that she's tenacious and flexible. While training, she discovered what she was good at - such as riding legs - and kept perfecting it. She worked with a trainer, Mike Kennedy of Parsippany, to add muscle.

Ashley has been an integral part of the Braves' program, helping them to two sectional titles. Versus girls, she's found success, too, claiming four USA New Jersey State championships.

In 2011, Ashley was second at 97 pounds in the Folkstyle Wrestling Nationals held in Oklahoma City. In this year's nationals, she tried her best to compete but was nagged by a torn labrum in her left arm. She made it to the semifinals before disqualifying herself.

"I was hoping to push through the pain but it was too much," she said.

"The labrum injury was an unfortunate way to end Ashley's senior year," Andy said. "It's definitely a tough break. It's good that she'll wrestle in college. It will be a good experience."

At King College, Ashley, whose major will be physical therapy, will be on even ground. She'll wrestle against women only for the Tornado, ranked second in the nation last season.

"I'm hoping to get a title there," Ashley said. "I know I have to work harder. I'd like to go to the Olympic Trials one day." 

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