David (DJ) Principe and Eliza Rego: NSAF Emerging Elites of the Week

This is the fifth Fall 2013 edition of our new NSAF weekly feature on nationalscholastic.org: the Emerging Elites of the Week.  The New Balance Nationals Indoor and Outdoor meets have become known for the ever-expanding and improving competition in the divisions of the same name.  Similarly, the NSAF seeks to give weekly recognition to track and field and cross-country athletes reaching new and exciting competitive levels with their recent performances.

The results of the Great American CC Festival last weekend have created a unique opportunity to recognize rising stars from the same school!

Male – David (DJ) Principe, La Salle Academy Class of 2017, Providence RI

17th (1st 9th-grader), 15:41.5 (5k), Great American CC New Balance Race of Champions, WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC

La Salle and Coach Ken Skelly had a pretty good what they were getting when David (DJ) Principe began fall XC practice.  Followers of distance running in Rhode Island and New England have watched over the last 4-5 years while he has picked up the sport and “ran with it,” so to speak.  The dynamo, reported at about 5-1 and less than 100 pounds, established himself as a middle school and USATF Youth elite prior to this fall, whether it’s been over hill and dale, on the track or even on the roads.  A Steve Mazzone story on ri.milesplit.com noted Principe’s PRs ranging from 9:10.70 for 3000m to 59:52 for 10 miles.

But all that said, Principe still exceeded expectations when he ran his first major invite at Great American last weekend.  That he had the potential to run sub-16 was clear; that he would actually do it this soon, and with authority (15:41.5) on a legit course against brutal competition, was a bit eye-opening.  The bottom line is this:  Of the many thousands of runners which have competed at Great American over the years (all venues) – and a similarly formidable number which have run at WakeMed (all meets held there) – no freshman boy has ever run faster than Principe’s did last weekend.

A few thoughts from DJ:

On how he felt about Great American and whether he was surprised with his time or if he expected it:  The race was fantastic.  I had some goals in mind; however, I was not exactly sure how it was going to go.  In my head, I had my sights set on breaking 16 and whatever place came with that, I was going to be happy with.
The first mile felt great. The downhill loosened up the legs and we were really moving.  However, you really felt just how fast you had gone by the time you got to 2k.  I decided to try and just stick with the guys around me, and wait for that second wind to come that third mile.  After the second hill in the back of the course, I felt my legs coming back and I began to work.  I know my kick isn't as good as some of the bigger guys, so I knew I needed to let it all hang out on the hill.  I was always told to “shut that pain switch off.”  I just put it all out there and couldn't have been happier.

On the start of his freshman season, prior to GACC:  I decided to compete in the freshmen race at the Injury Fund Invitational (9/7). My coaches and I decided I can only be a freshmen once and should take advantage of some opportunities.  That race went great (12:50 for 4.1K!).  I also have competed in three dual meets.  The team takes advantage of the dual meets as ways to sharpen up key areas, and I feel they have really helped me this year.

On what got him started in the sport:  My dad has been running before I was born, so I have always been around the sport.  I loved competing in the kids’ races at 5ks ever since they had my age group.  After one particular race when I was eight, I decided that I was going to start running a little bit more so that I could run the whole 5k at my dad's next race.  After a week or two, I ran a 23:23 at the Holy Apostles road race and have been hooked ever since.  However, even after that race I didn't end up running track and cross country until I was 10 and even then it was just for my recreation league.  It wasn't until 5th grade that I did Junior Olympics (2009)

On the transition to high school running:  High school has been a big change from middle school for me.  In middle school, I had no school sports, so I competed as an individual for all three years.  I wasn't really used to the whole team aspect of the sport yet, so it is something I am really enjoying this year.
Another big difference has been the training.  Just like for races, I was always training alone.  So to now have a handful of others guys with me every day to keep me moving has been a great credit to how the season is going.  All of them are great guys and always willing to help me out.  My coaches have also been fantastic.  They are always asking questions as to how I am feeling.  They have great personalities and make me feel like I can always talk to them about anything.

On team and individual goals for the rest of this fall:  This season has already been a blast, but if there is one thing I picked up over the years it is to never settle.  As a team, we want to compete for that state title, year in and year out, and this year is no exception. We have a great group of guys who are willing to put in the work to get there.  We also want to go out and compete in some other big meets, as well. 
As for myself, nothing would make me happier than to walk home knowing I gave it my all for this team.  To be able to walk home with that team state title would be great, and we all know we are all going to need to give it our best effort to achieve it.  As a freshman, it is tough to tell where I can be as an individual, so I really just want to do all I can to make this team great.


Female – Eliza Rego, La Salle Academy Class of 2016, Providence RI

3rd, 18:02.0 (5k), Great American CC New Balance Race of Champions, WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC

As a freshman on the track last winter and spring, La Salle Academy’s Eliza Rego firmly established herself as a middle- and long-distance competitive force from 600m to 3k.  In fact, she was in the top three in the Rhode Island indoor state meet 1,000 and 1,500, and lowered her 1k PR to 2:57.35 at New Englands.  The success continued outdoors.  Meanwhile, in her pre-high school days, she had run cross country for her middle school.  In the fall of her freshman year, however, she stuck with another of her favorite sports – soccer. 

So the question this fall when made the switch as a soph to XC with Coach Kelly Martin was this:  Would she pick up where she left off and show that she was as good or better at the long distances as she had been on the oval?  So far, the answer is a definitive yes.  At the Sept. 7 Injury Fund Carnival, with 4 different varsity races for almost all of the state’s top teams, she had the best time of the meet winning the Sullivan division with 18:27.  Then last weekend, in her first national-class XC invite at Great American, she ran to a sterling 3rd, beating everyone but Hannah Long and Madisyn Peeples.

A few thoughts from Eliza:

On what she thought about her Great American performance and whether or not she was surprised with placing in the top three:  When I finished the race, I was not paying attention to what place I was in or what I time I got.  When I found out how well I did, a few minutes after I finished, I was surprised!  I was not expecting to place that high, especially on such a hot day.

On her decision to run XC this fall after competing in soccer and track as a freshman:  Last year, I decided to play soccer for La Salle instead of run cross country.  I have been playing soccer ever since I was a little girl, so I decided to stick with it.  Last year after indoor track, I realized that I enjoyed running and started to consider running cross country instead of playing soccer.  This season has been a great experience so far. I have been doing well in the meets and I am excited for the rest of the season.

On what got her started in running and whether she considers herself more of a middle- or long-distance runner:  I have always been a fast runner; in soccer I was always one of the fastest players on the team, but I never tried running far distances until the 6th grade.  Before La Salle, I went to Saint Philomena School, a Catholic school which includes pre-K to 8th grade.  Every year we would have a field day where all the grades would participate in different races and games; and I would always do well in the races. 
When I entered 6th grade, the cross country coach (who also helped run the field day), told me to try cross country.  I ran cross country for Saint Philomena School in 6th through 8th grade.
I consider myself more of a distance runner after running track and cross country.  Middle-distance is fun to run, but I do not think that I am as good at running middle-distance as I am running longer distance.

On team and individual goals for the rest of this fall:  The team and I hope to do well in states this year and hopefully place as a top team.  We have been training since the beginning of summer; we are strong and ready to fight.

Our Partners