WHEELERSBURG — The halls of Wheelersburg High School have always tended to put out exceptional talents as student-athletes.
However, over the last decade, the Pirates have certainly ramped up their successes — as individuals such as Ellie Ruby, Paige Emnett, Libby Miller and Christen Risner, among others, have done.
Shawnee State, in particular, has benefited over the last five years from that talent pool.
With female athletes such as Brooke Smith, Abbie Kallner, Kalle Coleman and Alli McQuay continuing their careers at the next level from Pirate Country, the Bears certainly have been fortunate to have some of the best talents from Wheelersburg attend the SSU campus as student-athletes.
For the 2020-21 campaign, Wheelersburg’s Alyssa Dingus — a standout cross country and track and field runner for the Pirates — will suit up for the Bears’ programs when Shawnee State begins running competition this fall.
The opportunity to run at the collegiate level is sweet in and of itself for Dingus, but to do so at the four-year program just 10 minutes from the ‘Burg while getting a chance to avenge her lost senior track season is simply icing on the cake.
“It means a great deal to me to be able to compete at the collegiate level here in my home county, especially with the way that my senior season ended,” Dingus said. “It will make it easier for family, coaches and friends to be able to share in the experience with me and hopefully enjoy many more accomplishments and successes as an athlete. I have high expectations for myself and goals that I look forward to meeting not only as an individual, but as part of a new team.”
At Wheelersburg, Dingus proved to be an integral piece to the cross country and track and field squads — ultimately notching a third-place performance at the Southern Ohio Conference meet by running a time of 22:22.
Her time sat just 11 seconds off of her personal best, and was good enough for first-team all-SOC honors as Dingus’ performance led four Wheelersburg finishers within the top 14.
The Pirates, as a result, won their first SOC championship in cross country since winning four consecutive titles from 2010 to 2013.
On the track, however, Dingus shined in a big way.
A standout 400-meter participant from the jump, the freshman immediately posted a top-five finish by running a 1:05.06 at the 2017 Southern Ohio Conference meet, then added in a seventh-place finish in the 400-meters by posting a 1:04.30 at the OHSAA Division II Southeast District championships.
Over the next two seasons, Dingus established herself as one of the Southeast District’s best track and field athletes, winning over a dozen races between her sophomore and junior seasons.
She became a two-time state qualifier in the process.
In 2018, Dingus — alongside Miller, Lani Irwin, Lauren Jolly, Kylan Canary, Gabby Deacon and Lyndlee Wills — stormed to seven relay victories during the season between the 4-by-200, 4-by-400 and 4-by-800 meter relays.
At the SOC meet in Oak Hill, Dingus contributed to conference championship victories for each of the relay units — as she teamed with Canary, Deacon and Miller to collect a 1:50.32 in the 4-by-200; ran with Canary, Irwin and Jolly en route to posting a 4:29.04 in the 4-by-400; and combined with Canary, Deacon and Wills to run a 10:56.8 in the 4-by-800.
These efforts helped Wheelersburg win the 2018 SOC Division II championship and kickstarted a rewarding postseason run where eight Pirates represented at the Division III state championships — with Dingus helping ‘Burg qualify in the 4-by-400 following a 4:09.65 in regional competition.
The 4-by-400 unit finished 18th at the D-III state championships, and Wheelersburg — as a team — finished seventh overall.
In 2019, Dingus shined again.
A speed demon in the 400 meters, Dingus won the 400-meter dash races at the Ironton and Portsmouth Invitationals, collected a third victory at the SOC II meet in Minford (1:01.75), and also won the Southern Ohio Conference’s 200-meter dash championship (27.28).
She — along with Irwin, Jolly and Miller — broke a 37-year-old SOC II record by posting a blistering time of 1:47.62 in the 4-by-200 meter relay.
Dingus continued her strong work during that postseason, where the junior ended up rounding out her high school track experience with a personal-best 59.91 in the Division III, Region 11 400-meter dash — a school record — and a victory with the formerly-mentioned trio in the 4-by-200-meter relay.
Wheelersburg went on to qualify for the Division III state championships thanks in part to Dingus’ efforts, and scored 18 points despite losing Ruby the year prior due to graduation.
“Qualifying for state with Wheelersburg my sophomore and junior year was one of my greatest moments as an athlete,” Dingus said. “Doing it for ourselves, our coaches and accomplishing the feat alongside great athletes, great teammates and your best friends makes it that much sweeter. Some athletes never make it to that level. For me having that opportunity twice with them is a blessing, and a great accomplishment that I will always cherish. I really didn’t look at it as helping Wheelersburg. I looked at it as Wheelersburg helping me grow into a better athlete and a person. I am proud to have been a part of the program at Wheelersburg. If I helped the program with my accomplishments, then that is just icing on the cake. I can’t wait to see how the future athletes capitalize on what Wheelersburg has to offer, and all that they achieve.”
Much of her growth as a runner, however, is credited by Dingus to her own teammates for their belief in her abilities — as well as their individual characteristics as competitors.
“Running with Lauren, Libby, Lani, Gabby, Ellie, Kylan and Lyndlee were some of my best experiences,” Dingus said. “They are great athletes and teammates who are not only driven and successful athletes themselves, but help drive you, support you, and are just as thrilled to watch you succeed as they are when they succeed. Whatever you needed, they were there to help you. I have been lucky to have had the privilege of running with all of them, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. They have all said they can’t wait to see what I do and accomplish as a college athlete.”
With Shawnee State, the line of communication was open for Dingus to compete for the Bears at an early stage.
Blaike Smith and Eric Putnam each played roles in talking to Dingus about running for SSU — a campus that the Wheelersburg product was already familiar with as part of the College Credit Plus program.
Now, with her college future set, the future early childhood education major is ready to continue to grow as a student-athlete.
Beyond dropping her stout 400-meter dash time, Dingus wants to develop the skills that will allow her to be a successful mentor to future generations of grade schoolers upon making the transition to a full-time career.
“Athletically, I would like to leave a positive impact on my team, break some records, grow, and learn all that I can as a college athlete,” Dingus said. “I would like to get my 400-meter dash time down to at least 57 seconds before I graduate. I want to be a positive influence on my team to help us all meet our goals, have a great time, and make memories while competing. Academically, I want to grow as a student and learn all that I can so that I can earn my degree and mentor young lives as a teacher. I want to have a positive impact on the kids I will have as my own students by making a difference in their lives and helping them in any way that I can. In both areas, I want to push myself to meet my goals for my future, and the people that I influence along the way.”
For more information on SSU Bears Athletics, visit www.ssubears.com or visit the Twitter and Facebook pages at https://twitter.com/SSUBears and https://www.facebook.com/SSUBears. For more information on how to join the SSU Bear Club, visit https://givetossu.com/bear-club.