By Jean DePlacido
---- — Colleges all across the country wanted to land Peabody High running sensation Catarina Rocha, who committed to Providence College late last night.
Rocha received full scholarship offers, including a fifth year, from all of her final four choices. She had narrowed the decision down to PC, Boston College, UConn, and Georgetown. After visiting all four schools she felt Providence was the perfect fit.
“It was really a tough choice,” said Rocha, who ended her high school cross country career in a blaze by finishing second at the Foot Locker Cross Country Championships in San Diego earlier this month. “Providence was my first visit back in September. I wanted to stay close to home so I ruled out all the schools in the West right away.”
The Friars were runner-up to national champion Oregon at the NCAA Meet at the University of Louisville. Team members come from all over the country, Switzerland and Australia.
“Everything about Providence was attractive to me. The team dynamics, the coaches, the education, the campus, and the location. It’s only an hour and 15 minutes away from home so I can come home whenever I want. It’s just perfect; not too close, but not too far either,” Rocha said.
Both her mother, the former Gina Braz, and father Joe Rocha had starred at BC where her uncle Fernando Braz also had a Hall of Fame career.
“I thought Georgetown and UConn were a little too far away so my final choice was between BC and Providence,” she said. “All the scholarship offers were great, but in the end Providence was where I felt most comfortable.”
Rocha plans to run all three seasons for the Friars, but could wind up red shirting a season and use her fifth year. She said that will be up to the coach, and she will do whatever veteran coach Ray Treacy wants.
“I think it’s a great fit for her,” said Joe Rocha, who also coaches the Tanners. “She narrowed it down to four wonderful schools, and at the end felt Providence was the right fit both athletically and academically. She loved Georgetown but thought it was too far away, and UConn was a little too big. Providence is a bit smaller than BC. Catarina just felt more connected at PC, and as parents we tried to let her make her own decision and supported it.
“I think she made a good choice because it’s an established program that was second in the nation in cross country this year, and their coach is highly respected.”
Rocha, the Salem News Cross Country Runner of the Year the last three years, had a terrific performance in San Diego, passing two runners in the last 300 meters to take second place. She clocked 17:29 on the 5K course for the best finish ever by a girl from Massachusetts. She had qualified by winning the Northeast Regional Qualifier in New York in 17:49, a full 19 seconds ahead of the nearest competitor.
Before that she won the All-State Meet in 18:06, a time that was 45 seconds better than the second place finisher, and led her team to a state title. She also won her third straight Eastern Mass. Division 1 title, setting a new course record.
Rocha started for the Tanner soccer team as a freshman before deciding to run all three seasons. She shattered course records throughout her career. The Tanner captain broke the course record set by Olympian Shalane Flanagan of Marblehead in the NEC Meet at Bradley Palmer with a new mark of 17:20 to easily best the record of 17:45.
“It’s a relief knowing I’ve made my decision,” said Rocha, who has a 3.7 GPA. “I can enjoy the rest of my senior year now. It was a nerve wracking process but feels awesome to say I have committed to Providence. I called to let them know last night, and I know they were excited. I’m excited, too. They’ve had a lot of success, but that’s not the reason I decided to go there. I weighed all the differences between the schools and felt this was the perfect fit for me.”
PC’s Treacy is one of the top coaches nationally, having been with the Friars as coach for 26 years. He’s coached 134 All-Americans, 11 NCAA individual champions, 142 Big East individual champions and 13 Olympic athletes. His teams have captured one NCAA cross country title and 16 Big East XC titles.