At the end of her sophomore year, Karen Roa had a decision to make - tennis or track & field. She was talented in each, but the time it took for both was taking away from her progressing enough in either to gain a college scholarship.
“I knew I had to pick between the two,” she said.
Remaining in the Terriers’ dominant tennis program, a team that has not lost in eight years, compiling 126 straight wins and seven consecutive Mayor’s Cup trophies? Or focus all her energy on track, where, it seemed, she had more ability, having qualified for the New York State championships in cross-country as well as indoor and outdoor track as a sophomore long distance runner?
That success ultimately made the decision an easy one, or at least as easy as it could’ve been given the circumstances. Roa put down her racquet and picked up her running shoes for good this fall. “The day I quit the team I knew I would miss it,” she said. “It was a hard decision, but I don’t regret it.”
It looks like a prudent choice now. The junior long-distance runner, who holds the Catholic High School national record in the 2,000-meter steeplechase, qualified for the States again in cross-country, placing seventh. Furthermore, she set a personal and course mark in the 3,000 meters Saturday afternoon in the Mayor’s Cup at the New Balance Track & Field Center in Washington Heights at 10:40.97, shattering the 11:01.70 set by Poly Prep’s Avery Klein-Cloud in 2005.
“I had a good start out there and pushed the pace,” she said.
Her coach, Jim May, was surprised at the time considering her two main competitors, Devotia Moore of Townsend Harris and Kerri Gallagher of Bishop Kearney, didn’t take part in the competition that combined the best in private, public and Catholic school athletes from Long Island and New York City. The performance, however, spoke of the strides Roa has made just halfway through her first “real” season, as May categorized it.
In this race, she didn’t jump out quick, trailing after the first lap but took the lead for good the second time around the track, never breaking stride the rest of the way. “She never looked back,” May said, “which showed she was very confident.”
When she played both sports, Roa would often miss two track practices a week, or at least cut them short to get to tennis practice. The increased focus on just one sport has enabled her to improve, shaving off nearly 20 seconds from her average mile, from 5:37 to 5:16.
“I definitely see a difference,” the Jamaica native said. “Its just confidence.”
Because of her breakout junior season, along with her exploits as a sophomore, Roa, an exceptional student with a 90 average, has already received recruiting letters from Ivy League schools Cornell and Princeton as well as Colgate.
Obviously, the decision to stick with track instead of tennis is beginning to pay dividends.