Emelys Villareal, a track and field athlete who had no cross-country background, said she had always wanted to run cross country before. Even though her school doesn’t have a cross-country team, that didn’t stop the Greenport High School senior from competing in the sport this year.
Villareal took the extra step (or make that a couple of bus rides a day to and from Southold High School) to make that a reality. She was a team of one, running as an independent athlete while training with Southold’s team and following the First Settlers’ meet schedule.
Villareal said she was unsuccessful in trying to get a Greenport cross-country team established last year, but she was heartened to hear from Greenport athletic director Chris Golden and Greenport/Southold girls track coach Mike Gunther that she could run with Southold this fall. And so, Southold had seven girls, plus one — Villareal.
“I was very excited, a little nervous because I was alone, but excited,” she said.
But Villareal was not alone. Although she wore a purple uniform and the Southold girls wore red, she was accepted as if she was an official member of the Southold team.
“I thought I was going to be alone, but they welcomed me,” she said. “They were really all very sweet.”
Southold coach Karl Himmelmann said he knew from the first week of preseason practice what type of an athlete Villareal was through her attitude and work ethic.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said. “It’s always a little challenging when there’s a student from another school that I don’t see every day. … She’s worked very hard at every practice, has given a hundred percent at every meet and her results are evident of that. She has gradually improved at every meet this year.”
Villareal recorded a season-best five-kilometer time of 21 minutes, 38 seconds at the Brown Invitational. Her best time at Sunken Meadow State Park was 23:48.
Villareal finished 15th in the Class D race in the Section XI Championships in 26:46.73 at Sunken Meadow on Friday.
Villareal said she felt added pressure as Greenport’s sole cross-country runner when her activities were read out on the morning announcements. “It’s kind of an added pressure because they expect you to do well,” she said.
Himmelmann said: “It’s definitely a challenge for any athletes that either go from Greenport to Southold or vice versa. It requires an extra level of dedication and commitment that she definitely has.”
In track, Villareal has run a variety of events, from the 4×400-meter relay to the 800 to the 1,500 to the 3,000. But she appreciates the peace and beauty that comes with cross country. She believes the experience will make her a better track athlete.
“I’ve gotten stronger mentally,” she said. “I used to be afraid of pain, like pushing myself to the absolute limit. But [in] cross country, you have to give it your all or you’re not going to get better. I’ve learned to deal with the pain, just to smile, drop my shoulders and shake out my arms in the middle of a race.”
Photo caption: Greenport senior Emelys Villareal took extra steps to compete as an independent runner this cross-country season. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)