Thursday, June 6, 2013

Is this Lipari's Moment to Shine at NCAA Nationals?

Roslyn runner races to NCAA finals

Thursday, June 6, 2013

After starring on the track at Roslyn High School and growing into one of the strongest runners in Villanova University’s track and field program, junior Emily Lipari is working toward dominating in another setting: Eugene, Ore.

After registering her fastest time in the 1,500 meters at 4:15.89 last week, Lipari advanced to the outdoor NCAA finals meet for the first time in her career, and will compete Thursday at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field for a shot at the national title.

“I competed in last year’s indoor finals [in the indoor mile event] and didn’t advance, and I really made it a point to get back on track and this year I’m back with a vengeance,” Lipari said. “It’s a do-or-die feeling. Not too many get the opportunity to run at the NCAAs, so I’m definitely going to make the best of it.”

Despite being named Second Team All-America, Lipari, 20, finished 12th in the mile at the indoor NCAA championships, watching the rest of the meet from the stands.

“That was difficult for me,” Lipari said. “I made the decision coming into my junior year thinking I didn’t want to go through that again.”

Lipari, the 2007 and 2008 New York Athlete of the Year in cross country, was one of the most successful runners in recent Roslyn memory, winning four national championships in the mile, at the Nike Outdoor Nationals as a freshman, twice at the Nike Indoor Nationals and once at the New Balance National.

In her senior year, Lipari won a championship in the mile at the Boston Indoor Games and an outdoor championship in the 3,000 meters at the Penn Relays.

“In high school, it felt kind of easy because our coach put a lot of time into me,” Lipari said. “She gave me some really good opportunities and focused a lot of time and attention on training me and taking me to races.”

Lipari anchored the NCAA record 4x800 and DMR (above) relays winners at the 2013 Penn Relays

Lipari, a psychology major who minors in biology, said she visited Georgetown, Providence and Oregon, who were each interested in her for track, but she had a special feeling about Villanova, with its rich history of track and field success, that she couldn’t ignore.

“The other schools were fun, and those girls were great and the coaches were good, but at Villanova, they’re focused on setting records and winning,” Lipari said. “They’re low-key but very successful and it was very hard to turn down. You’d walk into coach [Gina Procaccio]’s office and see photos of NCAA champions and you think, I want to be there someday.”

The transition from high school to college competition, she said, wasn’t difficult at first because as a freshman, Lipari wouldn’t have the expectations and pressure upperclassmen tend to have each time they step to the starting line.

“We had a really awesome senior class that kept me as blind to things as they could,” Lipari said. “They told me to just run, and got to slide into a spot and be a bit of a follower and listen to what people told me and put the rest out of my mind.”

The Greenvale native made an immediate impact on the Villanova team as a freshman in 2010, finishing as one of the cross country team’s top five finishers in each race she ran and earned All-Big East and All-Mid Atlantic Region honors.

During the ensuing indoor season, Lipari ran the first leg of the track team’s Distance Medley Relay for a unit that went on to Big East and national championships in the event, and when competition moved outdoors that spring, she ran the second leg of the 4x800 Meter Relay at the Big East championships and, with a third place finish, helped Villanova earn All-Big East honors.

Her success continued in her sophomore year, as she helped the cross country team to a fourth consecutive Big East title, won an individual Big East championship in the indoor 1000 Meters, earned Second Team All-America honors in the indoor Mile and anchored the Villanova 4x800 outdoor Meter Relay team to a Big East title.

But Lipari said she wasn’t satisfied with her results, and needed to do a bit of soul-searching when the year reached its conclusion. 

“After freshman year, you give yourself expectations on what you need to be great, but many don’t necessarily want to take the steps to get there,” she said. “I didn’t get the results I wanted after sophomore year, and I went home for the summer and had to really think about what I actually wanted.”

If a runner is lucky, Lipari said, the pressures to excel on the track, in the classroom and as a team leader will come together, and the runner will relax, just enough to capture the carefree feeling she ran with as a freshman.

“It feels like you’re cruising and you can tell everyone else around you is tired, but you feel strong,” she said. “When your body is strong, you can hang with those girls. You have the confidence to realize you do deserve to be at this level.”

Lipari felt this, she said, sometime last fall, as she worked toward earning All-American honors for the first time in her cross country career, won an individual conference championship for the first time in her cross country career, and earned All-Big East and All-Mid Atlantic Region honors.

That momentum has led Lipari to the NCAA outdoor championships, to the University of Oregon where she once visited as a potential student, to the birthplace of the Nike swoosh emblazoned on her uniform, representing the epicenter of modern track and field.

“I know I have a lot more to throw out there and am really looking forward to the next few races ahead,” Lipari said. “That’s how I’m thinking about them, as just the next few races.”

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