A year ago, Rocha was third in the Northeast, which includes runners from the New England states plus Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. Though she was an All-American by virtue of a 7th place finish at nationals last year, Rocha felt plenty of butterflies before Saturday’s race.
“This is the one to qualify. When you’re already at nationals, you feel like it’s alright because you already made it,” she said. “Having been to nationals, I really wanted to get there again, so I was pretty nervous for this race.”
Rocha’s coach and father has seen her evolve both physically and mentally since taking up cross country as a sophomore. She trusts herself and her instincts and it’s made a world of difference against elite competition.
“She’s a student of racing now, of running,” Joe said. “She’s a mature runner and she’s mentally prepared. She has the confidence to take the lead like she did (on Saturday).”
The top-10 finishers in New York advance to the national finals, to be held in San Diego on Dec. 8. Rocha said her goal was simply to finish in the top 10, and she knew that against such a talented field winning would be a bonus. Her father was a little bit more optimistic.
“As a coach, I know what she can do and I thought she had a good chance to win, I really did,” said Joe. “Anything can happen, but she’s in great shape, she’s peaking at the right time and she executed the race the way we planned it.”
The goal for Rocha at nationals will be another All-American finish. Having already won a state title both as an individual and as a team, the regional crown was a welcome bonus.
“I did not expect to be first. It felt really good for me and to be able to represent Peabody,” said Catarina. “To have this on top of winning that (team) state title, it makes the season that much better.”