Track and Field: Villegas realizes a dream

Balers junior Marisa Villegas is aiming for a CCS title in the 1,600-meter run to go along with another berth to the CIF State Meet.

Marisa Villegas needed a mental boost as the track and field season hit the halfway point a couple of weeks ago. And that’s exactly what the San Benito High junior got when she competed in the prestigious Arcadia Invitational on April 8-9. Villegas earned a medal by placing first in her heat and sixth overall in the Open Division of the mile run in 5 minutes, 2.02 seconds.
“To get a medal at Arcadia is a dream come true,” she said. “It’s definitely a table turner for the season. Being at Arcadia fired me up, and it definitely impacted me a lot. Hopefully, I’ll get to go next year and run more events.”
The Arcadia Invitational is one of the top meets in the U.S., as competitors from across the country come to the iconic facility located in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Most of the nation’s best athletes convene in Arcadia every year, making for a surreal scene. Villegas, a two-time state qualifier in the 1,600-meter run, was overwhelmed with positive feelings of emotion during and after the competition.
“You always hear about Arcadia and wonder what it would be like to run there,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect—I just knew it was going to be this super huge meet with great runners from all over the country. Just being there running and watching people run was amazing. I can’t even describe how awesome the experience was. It made me want to be that much better.”
Villegas was looking for a pick-me-up type of meet to jump-start what she hopes will be another strong finish to the season. Villegas was in the best scenario possible, in Arcadia, which provided her with some serious high-octane rocket fuel, resulting in a serious adrenaline boost and fresh mental outlook.
“The atmosphere couldn’t have been better,” she said. “You’re with a bunch of people that love the same thing you do. Everyone is pushing each other and trying to run as fast as they can. It’s getting toward the end of the season, and from here on out there are some big meets. Running at Arcadia was a confidence booster. It shows I can finally run down to the time and level I should be at. It was the perfect time for that to happen.”
Villegas’ mile time translates to right around a 5-flat or 4:59 for the 1600, a sign that she’s right where she needs to be as the season hits the stretch run. Villegas recorded a personal-record (PR) of 4:58.96 as a freshman and 4:56.85 as a sophomore. If Villegas can hit another 2-second PR, she’ll be in contention to win a Central Coast Section championship.
“I would love to break 4:56 by the end of the season,” she said.
With the 1600 being one of the toughest events to win—the CCS winner routinely clocks a time that ranks among the state’s and nation’s best—a victory by Villegas in the event would be a crowning achievement in a career filled with lofty achievements. A year ago, Villegas won a record-breaking four individual events in the Monterey Bay League Championships, an astonishing feat that will never be broken (individuals can compete in a maximum of four events, not counting relays).
In a dual meet against North Salinas on April 14, Villegas won the 1600 and 3200 races. Although Villegas didn’t post a particularly fast time in the 1600—she was running the 3200 for the first time this season—she came away after the race knowing she had produced a desired result.
Since Villegas trained to run at a high level in Arcadia, last Thursday’s meet served as a hard training run.
“It’s important to run a good time in the dual meets, so you’re not throwing anything away,” she said. “I felt pretty good (against North Salinas), and it felt like a good, hard training day. I was sore and could definitely feel it (a day later).”
To get an idea of how hard Villegas trains, it’s not uncommon for her to be sore after dual meets and invitationals. Yes, Villegas has youth on her side, but she’s going at a high intensity for a sustained period of time. But it’s nothing Villegas can’t handle; after all, athletes at the highest level need to run on days when their legs feel heavy, to mimic conditions at the end of a race when fatigue sets in.
“I’m usually sore after those tough meets or an invitational,” she said. “My legs are feeling heavy the next day and maybe the day after that, too. But it’s normal and just happens by running hard and pushing my legs. Running through it is not a problem—it’s when I’m not running when I feel it more.”
In addition to the 1600, Villegas will be focusing on the 800, as she currently has the seventh best time in the section. Focused, energized and talented, Villegas is primed to finish the season strong, produce a couple of PRs and make history along the way.

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