“It’s a bittersweet feeling.” “It hasn’t hit me yet.”
Talk to senior college athletes on their way out the door, into their next line of work — be it as a professional athlete or something else entirely — and those comments often come up.
It’s bittersweet that the finish line is near. Usually.
Not for Shapri Romero.
Next week, the senior 200- and 400-meter runner will compete in her final meet as an Arizona Wildcat at the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Oregon.
And Romero — looking for her first-ever outdoor title — can’t wait to get out of here.
“I mean, it’s hit me,” Romero said, “but I’m not one of those people that wants to stay behind. I just love to move forward and go ahead, even when I graduated high school I was ready to get out of there.”
Romero’s forward thinking seems to have worked so far.
Even when she was a walk-on as a freshman, coming to the UA from St. Mary’s Catholic School in Phoenix.
As a walk-on, “I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, or how it was supposed to be done,” she said.
“It was just go out there, try your hardest,” Romero added. “You can’t be hurt, you can’t be sick, you’re trying to make your way on this team. I do whatever Coach tells me to do.”
First, her goal was simple — keep up with Georganne Moline, an Olympian, Pac-12 champion and NCAA runner-up in her time at Arizona. Currently, Moline is a volunteer assistant for the Wildcats.
“She was faster than me in the 400,” Romero said. “So at every practice, I had to get behind her, or as close to her as I could.”
Moline graduated last year, In her place, Romero has done pretty well for herself, which she did even when Moline was still a Wildcat.
Romero is probably the least-heralded star out of a remarkably accomplished UA senior class — the others being record distance runner Lawi Lalang and high jumper Nick Ross on the men’s side, discus and shot-put star Julie Labonté on the women’s.
But Romero has done plenty in her time at the UA.
And Fred Harvey, finishing his 12th season as the UA coach, can say that it’s bittersweet to see Romero leaving — along with Lalang, Ross, Labonté and all the other seniors, for that matter — because he’ll still be here when they officially depart.
“It is bittersweet,” Harvey said, “but there’s a lot of honor involved because they came young, very talented, trying to find themselves.
“To see them through their entire career — and being able to watch them perform at the level they’re performing at — is a real honor.”
Again, though, Romero is looking forward to the end.
“I’ve been at this school for four years, and to be at this point is not bittersweet,” she said.
“It’s completely sweet.”
Bowing out: UA’s decorated track and field senior class
Here’s a closer look at the Wildcats’ quartet as the athletes prepare for the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon:
The crown jewel
From: Eldoret, Kenya
NCAA events: 1,500-, 5,000-meter runs
NCAA prelims: 1,500 (first place); 5,000 (second place)
NCAA outdoor history: Two-time champion (5,000, 10,000), runner-up (5,000), third place (5,000 in 2012)
He said it: “The learning curve for us coaches working with a young man like that, I think we learned more from him than he learned from us. … Every time that man steps onto the cross country course or the track, he is going to bring it, and he’s going to try to break records.” — UA head coach Fred Harvey
Other notables: Has won seven NCAA titles, one cross country, four indoors and two outdoors; six-time Pac-12 champion (three in 1,500 meters, two in 5,000, one in 10,000); Lalang owns three of the five fastest indoor miles in NCAA history, including the collegiate record (3:52.88); holds school records for the indoor mile, 3,000 and 5,000 and the outdoor 1,500 and 5,000; 2013 The Bowerman finalist, which is basically track and field’s Heisman trophy
The comeback kid
From: Murrieta, Calif.
NCAA Events: High jump
NCAA prelims: Tied first place (high jump), 40th place (triple jump)
NCAA outdoor history: third place (high jump in 2011), fourth (high jump in 2012), eighth (high jump in 2010), 15th (triple jump in 2012)
Quote: “I won the last-ever Pac-10 championships, won the first Pac-12 championships and now the third one, too, so it’s awesome.” — Ross
Other notables: Redshirted the 2013 season because of a foot injury; in May, broke a 34-year-old UA high jump record (7-6½); 2012 indoor champion, 2014 runner-up (high jump); 2012 Pac-12 Men’s Field Athlete of the Year; three-time Pac-12 champion
From: Sainte-Justine, Quebec
NCAA events: Shot put
NCAA prelims: fourth place (shot put), 20th place (discus)
NCAA outdoor history: Champion (shot put), runner-up (discus), fifth place (shot put in 2013)
Quote: “There’s only one event that was really a devastating blow to us, and that was Julie (Labonté) not making it through in the women’s discus.” — Harvey after NCAA prelims
Other notables: 2012 Canadian Olympian; three-time Pac-12 champion; 2011 NCAA indoor champion (shot put); in 2013, was first woman to earn All-America honors in the shot put and discus in the same season since Carla Garrett in 1989.; in 2011, her sophomore year, did not lose a shot-put competition to a collegiate competitor throughout the season, a streak that lasted 12 competitions and including winning the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles in the event.
NCAA events: 200-, 400-meter runs
NCAA prelims: Seventh place (400 meters), 14th (200), 13th (4x100 relay), 15th (4x400 relay)
NCAA outdoor history: Sixth place (4x400 relay in 2012), ninth (4x400 relay in 2013)
Quote: “I feel honored to be a part of this senior class because, I mean, I was a walk-on, so I didn’t know. I didn’t get recruited here, so I didn’t know who they were, how good they were.” — Romero
Other notables:; Romero’s 4x400 relay team in 2012 did not lose a single race heading into the NCAA championships; six-time All-Pac-10/12; 2014 second-team All-American (400 meters, indoor)