Peabody High senior Catarina Rocha did not expect to be all alone coming down the half-mile finishing stretch of the Foot Locker Cross Country Northeast Regional Championship.
With about 200 meters left in the 5K race held at Van Cortlandt Park in Bronx, New York, Rocha realized she was about to become a regional champion. With no competitors in sight, she crossed the finish line in 17:49 with a big, satisfied smile.
“It’s a long finish — you can see if from 800 meters away, and coming down to the end I thought ‘Wow, this is really happening.’,” said Rocha, who punched her ticket to Foot Locker’s national meet in San Diego in two weeks.
The two-time Division 1 Massachusetts champion is heading to Foot Locker’s national finals for the third time. She’s the fifth girl from the Bay State to win the Northeast regional, which has been held every year since 1979.
“Catarina approaches things in a quiet manner and she seldom shows much emotion,” said Joe Rocha, Peabody’s cross country coach and Catarina’s dad. “(Saturday) she was smiling and she showed some emotion. This is a great accomplishment.”
Running against 110 of the best girls in the region was a challenge. Rocha was running at Van Cortlandt for the first time because the last two regionals were held elsewhere during course renovations, and after scouting the course she hoped to move ahead on a small hill around the 2-mile mark.
After sticking with the other leaders as planned, Rocha separated from the pack. Over the last mile, the field couldn’t catch her and she finished 19 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
“I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure if I moved at the right time, if it was too fast or too slow,” Catarina said. “I felt the pace and I went with that feeling and let all the work we’ve put in take over.”