Catarina Rocha doesn’t run away from things. She runs to them.
Tomorrow, the Peabody High senior is running towards the end of a remarkable high school cross country career. She’ll be taking part in Foot Locker’s Cross Country National Championships for the third time. As a returning All-American and the Northeast Regional champion, she is among the favorites for the girls national title.
The 17-year old Rocha landed in San Diego yesterday, one of 40 girls and 40 boys to qualify from around the nation. The girls championship race will be held tomorrow (12:15 p.m. Eastern time) on the 5K course at Balboa Park.
“I’m nervous, but also excited to be able to go again and experience that race day atmosphere,” said Rocha. “Mentally, I think everyone’s a little nervous. I don’t think anyone can say they’re not at a meet like this.”
Rocha finished seventh last year as a junior and would love to improve on that tomorrow. Her ultimate goal is to earn a second All-American honor by finishing in the top 15 and said she isn’t feeling any pressure to win it all.
“Catarina doesn’t get too high and that’s what makes her who she is,” said Joe Rocha, Catarina’s father and coach for all three seasons at Peabody High. “Her approach is always the same.”
Those that know Rocha say her focus and mental toughness are second to none. She has an unwavering ability to concentrate over a variety of distances, which has led to Massachusetts state titles for her in cross country, the mile and the 2-mile.
“Incredible strength,” junior teammate Samantha Allen said of what sets Rocha apart. “I try to think about that extreme toughness that it takes to run ahead of the pack, by yourself, and keep pushing yourself. She’s so strong.”