EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another installment in our ongoing ‘Where Are They Now?’ segment in the Press & Dakotan, which highlights former area high school and college standouts, and their historic accomplishments.
Life has certainly kept Ashley (Storm) Dannenbring busy.
Three children — and a fourth on the way — will do that to you.
Yet, even a decade and a half after graduating from Yankton High School, she finds that the good times remain clear in her memory.
“Yes it does seem like a long time ago, but there are some really fond memories,” Dannenbring said by phone this week.
And in her alma mater’s record books, they’re also some historic memories.
What stands out the most from those days?
Without hesitation, Dannenbring — who married Ty Dannenbring, another former YHS standout — said it’s the camaraderie that she cherishes the most, nearly a decade and a half later.
“The close friendships are something I’ll always have,” she said. “And with our coaches, we got to experience some amazing races against some great competition.”
Dannenbring, now 32 and living in Loveland, Colorado, was a three-sport standout — cross country, volleyball and track — for the Gazelles at a time when Yankton was a powerhouse in distance running and a regular contender in volleyball.
“She was a rare athlete,” said Dan Fitzsimmons, the former YHS cross country coach and current cross country head coach at the University of South Dakota.
“Name a sport she couldn’t play.”
Dannenbring holds the rare distinction of winning state titles in concurrent sports during the fall of 2005: She was a member of Yankton’s state champion girls’ cross country team and a member of the state champion volleyball team.
“I got to be part of teams that were so talented,” Dannenbring said.
* On the cross country course, she was Yankton’s fourth runner and finished ninth at the Class AA state meet in Rapid City. The Gazelles were ranked as high as No. 5 nationally that season.
* On the volleyball court, she was a key member of Yankton’s squad that won the Class AA state tournament in Watertown. The title was the program’s first and only championship in school history.
* On the track, she still holds the school record in the 400-meter dash and 800-meter dash, and still ranks third all-time in the 1600-meter run. She was also a member of Yankton’s state-record sprint medley relay and 3200-meter relay in 2005.
Cross country and volleyball, though, were held at the same time, and both teams shared the same common trait, according to Dannenbring.
“I was part of what was already going on; friends who were talented and had fun competing together,” she said.
Competing in two sports at the same time, though, meant that Dannenbring remained busy. She awoke early to run (sometimes alone, sometimes alongside her future husband), went to school, had practice after school and then had to ensure her homework was completed.
“It was definitely hard,” she said. “There were some long days.”
But it never got to the point where it became too much to handle, according to Dannenbring.
“It was doable because it was fun,” she said. “There were fun people to be around and there was lots of encouragement.”
As he thought back to those days, Fitzsimmons said he is increasingly more impressed in one specific way Dannenbring handled both sports.
The night before the 2005 state cross country meet, Dannenbring and the Gazelles played a key Eastern South Dakota Conference volleyball match at Brandon Valley. The following day, Dannenbring was in Rapid City to toe the line for the cross country meet.
“I don’t think she made it to the course until the day of,” Fitzsimmons said.
The Gazelles proceeded to capture the state championship with seven runners in the top-16: Betsy Bies (first), Tiffany Leader (fifth), Amanda Kuchta (eighth), Dannenbring (ninth), Emily Smith (11th), Mariah Hofer (14th) and Kristin Sternhagen (16th).
“Those ladies then put together one of the most phenomenal races I’ve ever been part of,” Fitzsimmons said.
The success that Dannenbring displayed in her distance races ultimately led her to receive interest from the University of Oklahoma, where she joined a group of Gazelles runners who went on to compete at a high major conference program.
Ramsey (Kavan) Fitzsimmons, a 2005 YHS graduate, began her college career at Notre Dame and then transferred to the University of South Dakota. Dannenbring and Tiffany Leader, from the 2006 class, both went to Oklahoma, while Betsy Bies went to Oregon the following year.
Dannenbring spent one year in Norman, but eventually decided she’d rather come closer to home — she transferred to South Dakota State.
“I was at such a high level at OU, but coming from a small town, I don’t think I was mature enough to handle that,” she said.
There was an intimidation factor involved, she added.
“Looking back, I wish I would’ve been more mature and could’ve stayed there, and competed at that level,” Dannenbring said.
Although she admits now that there’s an “unfulfilled desire” with not staying with the Sooners, Dannenbring did go on to a standout career at SDSU. As a senior in 2009, she finished fifth at the Summit League cross country meet and was also a part of a champion distance medley relay in the 2010 conference outdoor track meet.
By that point, Fitzsimmons had moved on to USD, which presented him with an interesting dynamic: He was coaching against one of his former runners.
Dannenbring, he said, was one of the first women’s steeplechase participants in this part of the country.
“And we didn’t even hurdle her in high school,” Fitzsimmons joked.
Dannenbring got her nursing degree from SDSU and then worked as a nurse for a few years. Following her wedding in 2014, she and her husband spent some time in South Dakota, but later moved to Colorado in 2018.
The couple has three children: a 5-year-old daughter Leah, a 3-year-old son Samuel and a one-year-old daughter Abigail, with another child due in early May.
A stay-at-home mom with the three children and another on the way, Dannenbring said she’s hoping to get back into a running routine when she can.
“I’m hoping to train again and maybe do some longer races,” she said.
Family, of course, comes first, and that’s just the way Fitzsimmons remembers her.
“She’s not just a great athlete that I coached, but I would consider her a friend,” he said. “Most of the conversations we’ve had don’t have much to do with running.”
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