Surrounded by family, friends, teammates and coaches, Marisa Villegas couldn’t help but get emotional as she a letter of intent to run track and cross country at UCLA. After all, the San Benito High senior heard no less than a half-dozen people use the word “role model” to describe what she has meant to them over the years.
“Being a role model and hearing that from them means a lot,” Villegas said. “It’s great because that is what I’m trying to do—to be a role model to my sisters and others.”
A two-time state qualifier in the 1600-meter run, Villegas will also run cross country at UCLA. The 5-foot-8 three-sport star took an official visit to Cal, UCLA and USC within the last three months, but something stood out about UCLA.
“I love the campus, the athletes, the coaches, and I’m excited about the academics,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
By the time Villegas graduates from high school, she will have played four years of volleyball, soccer and track and field. Her running potential is strong enough that UCLA wants her to run cross country even though she never competed in the sport at San Benito because of volleyball.
Villegas combined talent with a work ethic and a drive that was second to none. It resulted in making her arguably the best all-around athlete the school has had in recent memory. Villegas took her official visit to UCLA on Oct. 1 to 3, and fell in love immediately.
Villegas was already content if she didn’t end up getting a scholarship. After all, playing playing three sports instead of focusing on one in high school allowed her to realize her athletic potential, and just as important, enjoy athletics that much more.
The fact that she ended up earning an athletic scholarship to a school like UCLA no less has been more than she could’ve ever imagined.
“There is nothing better than this,” she said. “Seeing everyone here and being able to share in this moment with them is something I’ll remember and keep with me as I start a new chapter in my life.”