State Track: Villegas keeps the pace in return trip

Marisa Villegas finished 16th in the 1600-meter race in the CIF State Championships.

Back in the CIF State Track and Field Championships for the second straight year, Marisa Villegas enjoyed her experience every bit as much from last season. Villegas, who just completed her junior year, ran the 1600-meter race in a time of 5 minutes, 2.71 seconds to take 16th overall last Friday at Buchanan High in Clovis.
“The experience was just as good as the first time,” she said. “Right when I got there, it just feels different. There’s a lot more going on, and the atmosphere kind of lets you know it’s a big meet if you didn’t know it before. Everyone there is so elite, and it’s really cool to be there because everyone is just like you in that they’ve trained all year long to reach this point.”
Villegas’ time was well off the personal record (PR) she set two weeks ago in the Central Coast Section Championships, when she finished in 4:56.47 to take second. However, with temperatures still in the 90s in the evening, the runners in the 1600 and especially the 3200 weren’t thinking about PRs—they just wanted to survive.
At the highest level, the 1600 is a strategic/mental race as much as it is a physical one. Runners are bunched up in a tight pack, and there’s no shortage of bumping, elbowing and kicking as competitors battle for precious real estate on the inside lane.
“One of the girls tripped over the heel of another girl in front of her, and as she was going down her arm kind of hit my arm,” Villegas said. “I got tugged on, so it was a little more than just an elbow. Luckily, no one fell. I think I got spiked on the shin, too, but it’s not really that big of a deal. This race was a little different than last year’s race. It was a little more aggressive in the fact that a couple of girls bumped into each other.”
A year ago, Villegas was joined by former teammate Shraee Harrison, who is also her cousin. This time fellow incoming senior Nolan Sanchez joined Villegas at the state meet. The two have known each other since they were third graders at Southside School.
“It made it that much more special that I had another friend at state to share in the moment,” she said. “He is one of the people I enjoy being around, and for us to both be at state was a huge accomplishment. To make it to state together after all of these years is something you never forget because of how long we’ve known each other.”
The state appearance capped off another solid season for Villegas, who is also a volleyball and soccer standout and rarely takes time off even in between seasons.
Three days after the state race, she was back on the hardwood playing volleyball at an open-gym practice.
Most year-round athletes take a couple of brief breaks during the year, but Villegas’ superior physical conditioning allows her to play or practice without an extended break all year. For Villegas, picking which sports to play has been difficult over the years.
Villegas played club basketball for four years before having to choose soccer once she entered high school (the basketball and soccer seasons run at the same time). She’s chosen volleyball over cross country because of her passion for volleyball. However, things could change if a college offers a scholarship to Villegas for track, whereupon the coach might strongly encourage her to run cross country to set up a strong season in track.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Villegas will give a superb effort. In every sport Villegas has played, she’s maximized her potential with a strong work ethic and desire to continually improve. Villegas’ experience at state was also memorable because she saw the UC Berkeley track and field coaches at the event.
A couple of months ago, Villegas was on the Cal campus for Junior Day, in which high school juniors spend a day at a college campus to learn more about its programs.
“Seeing the UC Berkeley coaches at state was pretty neat because I had talked to them before,” she said. “Just seeing them and us exchanging nods was encouraging and really reminded me that I had to run well.”

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