Bronco Seniors Reflect On Their Four Years At Santa Clara

June 1, 2009

Bronco seniors Noelle Lopez, Whitney Porter, Veronica Vazquez, and Anna Wheatley have spent countless hours together throughout their four years at Santa Clara. They overcame adversity from injuries and unsatisfying performances, but at the end of their Santa Clara careers they were healthy and running well.

The Bronco track and cross country teams will have a large gap to fill next season, as their leaders are graduating June 13. All four are excellent students as posed by their cumulative GPAs. Lopez leads the pack with a 3.9 GPA, Wheatley has a 3.7, Porter carries a 3.5 and Vazquez posts a 3.2.

However, their legacy will continue will remain because of their leadership and grace. The following interview was full of laughter and many stories that culminated four exciting years at Santa Clara.

SCU: Favorite memory from this year?

Noelle: I will always remember our trip to Willamette for the Charles Bowl Invitational. That was the first time our team really bonded in a wacky but amazing way.

Veronica: And we won the meet too!

Noelle: Yeah it was the first invitational we have ever won in cross country.

Whitney: From a senior standpoint, I would say being able to train and race together for the first time ever. This never happened before because there had always been injuries. That was just a really cool note to be able to go out on.

Anna: There was a race earlier in the year that was really fun. All three of us who were running had breakout races and we were just really excited. That was when we first started to realize how fast we could actually run this season so that was a really cool moment.

Whitney: One moment that stands out in my mind was the dance we did before our track races. I do not even know what we were doing, it was in the garage, and somebody decided to teach us a song and it kind of became a little team dance and song.

Noelle: The "I feel so good" dance.

Whitney: Everybody was dancing and singing. It was pretty amazing.

Noelle: (Head Coach) Tom Service really liked it.

Veronica: I think Tom Service was tempted to jump in. He loved it.

Anna: His wife really liked it too.

Noelle: Yeah we did it at his house. He had us over for dinner before the West Coast Conference cross country championships.

SCU: What was your favorite memory?

Anna: We have a camp before the season starts each year when we go to Santa Cruz and we do some really hard work outs, but they are really good bonding experiences. We all struggle but we do it together so that helps. We have a lot of campfires and hang out at the beach, so those we'll always stand out in my mind. Pre-season is always great because you get to come out and pretend like running is all you do. You run, eat, and sleep and hang out for the rest of the day. No class, no work, no nothing - it's great!

Veronica: I'll always remember Relay for Life. We always do that together as a team. We are on the track for 24 hours and we're tired so it's just a lot of bonding.

Noelle: One thing that I'll always take away is our class and how we've grown up together.

Veronica: The four of us actually ended together, which is really good.

Anna: We ended all running well and all running healthy. It was an amazing way to end the four years.

SCU: Describe your relationship. When did you know you had a special bond?

Noelle: It happened right away.

Whitney: We just clicked as a class. It took a while to realize how unique that was. A lot of classes have trouble because a lot of people get injured, realize they did not love running anymore and so you lose people. Running is a sport where people drop out of it because it so hard on your body.

Anna: Recently we just realized how unique it is to be together for so long. We had a decent amount of injuries, especially Noelle and I, and even then I feel like we were able to stay connected. Even though I was injured for a long time, I never thought I would not do this anymore.

Noelle: It was never an option to stop.

Veronica: Coming back to the atmosphere was what kept me going, especially this year being my senior year. I got injured really early and it would have been really easy for me say, `I am done, I do not want to race any of the last races.' However, at one point I realized even if I don't want to do it, I wanted to do it for the team. I was not going to end my senior year not able to run with them even if times were not the times I wanted to be running.

SCU: What are you guys going to miss most about the track and cross country team?

Anna: I'll miss the team, most definitely. I think just being a part of it; it's really weird being completely done with my entire athletic career because I've always been on a team since kindergarten. Now it's like OK, never again in the same capacity so that'll definitely be something that I'll miss a lot, especially this team because they are a bunch of crazy people in a very good way.

Veronica: I'm going to miss that feeling when you get on race day not just before but after. That nervous feeling that you hate at the time, but also the feeling after a good race, the runners high and being able to share that with your good friends. Being able to turn to someone else and they're so excited too because they understand.

Noelle: I am going to miss the workouts and the long runs where you are just out there for a long time and you would just talk about whatever for two hours. Or after a really good workout, I know I just started my day off really well. You're able to accomplish that with your fellow teammates.

Whitney: It takes a certain kind of personality to be a runner and it does not fit in with most other people as well. It's a very specific interest, and being around so many other people who have that same passion and interest and who understand you and your craziness after a race. I'm going to miss that solidarity.

SCU: Can you describe or comment on your relationship with head coach Tom Service and how he helped you develop in the four years at Santa Clara?

Noelle: Tom, how do you describe Tom? He has so many different catchy phrases, so many acronyms, so many amazing jokes, so many inspirational words and metaphors. By the end of the four years we could end meetings for him with the metaphors that he would use; sharpen the pencil, pop a bagel on, remove the safety net, take a risk and leave the comfort zone. Those are the main five.

Whitney: We all tend to do a lot of other things too like a lot of volunteering and academic endeavors. Rhodes Scholar for example (points at Noelle) He would worry about us stretching ourselves too thin and not getting enough sleep.

Noelle: Every week he'll send us a schedule and he'll have the most ridiculous codes like WPQR and he will say, "I forgot to erase that." He has been like a father because he's been so supportive, especially speaking personally. I was injured for a full year. He could have easily brushed me away or given up on me, but instead he was there supporting me the whole time.

Anna: He cares for us as people not just as athletes. He always looks at what's best for you as a person and is willing to sit down and listen and help.

Veronica: I was injured too and he made it a lot easier. He could have been easy for him to lose faith, but I feel like even when I was injured he had these goals for me about how fast I was going to come back. Sometimes he had more faith in me than I did in myself. He would have me back out there and expected me to run pretty fast. I mean it worked, someone had to have faith in me, and it definitely helped a lot. He was so supportive. We tend to get injured at the same times, and as a coach it must be hard but he is still supportive. If you need to take it easy, he is all for it. This year, both of us cross train twice a week and most runners only cross train once a week, and he did that for us. He was willing to change the schedule for us.

Whitney: I guess my relationship with Tom has kind of been up and down but overall really good. We all had a lot of talent coming in from high school there were high expectations for our class. I was never really injured but for some reason it took me a really long time to find my rhythm in running and perform like he thought I could. I knew he was frustrated and I was frustrated with myself, and it took us a really long time to figure out what sort of mental plan would work for me to run well. He stuck it out all four years and we finally found one that worked. It was just a really good ending.

SCU: How do you feel like the program has changed since you guys have been here?

Noelle: I feel like Tom is a lot more comfortable and as a team we are more comfortable with him and his training. In general, I think there is a lot more confidence in the program this year then any of the previous years because we've grown up and matured.

Veronica: I think that also has a lot to do with the fact that others see the relationship we have with Tom and they see that as the norm, so that's kind of the relationship they are developing with him. When we came in the relationships he had with some of the upperclassmen were as close, so it was harder for us to develop a good relationship with them. I feel like that's definitely changed and the freshmen can see the relationship we have with him and so that what it's becoming.

Anna: I also think there is a broader degree of openness among people on the team. It would be ok to be like `Oh I am not having a good day today this hurts', and that doesn't mean she's lazy and not working hard. I feel like we are more aware and ok with where we are that day and it's OK.

SCU: How has your senior year been academically and just in general?

Anna: Flown by! Way too fast!

Veronica: It's been really fun in all aspects of it.

Noelle: It's been a very culminating year. A very happy ending kind of senior year.

Whitney: Yeah, it's a good way to describe it. I like that.

SCU: Any plans for next year?

Anna: Well I do not have any specific plans. I want to travel eventually; hopefully New Zealand is on my list right now. But I don't have a job yet, so I have to get there first.

Veronica: I will be working with one of the big four accounting firms, so I'll be doing audits with them. I will be studying for the CPA. I have got to get that out of the way soon. I mean I'm excited; it's just kind of weird to think of right now that that's what I'll be doing next year. Noelle, what will you be doing next year? Haha

Noelle: Nothing special.

Veronica: Skip her!

Noelle: I'll be going to Oxford.

Anna: You really like the rain that's why you're going.

Noelle: I'll just be playing with play dough.

Whitney: Will you plan a trip for Oxford for us?

Veronica: That's what I'll be doing next year - working so I can go to Oxford!

Whitney: I'm currently searching for a bio-tech job in the bay area which is unsuccessful as of now.

SCU: Was there one event or something you did outside of school that was fun?

Noelle: We did a shoe drive, but I'd say that Relay for Life is really the big one.

Whitney: Relay for Life is a special weekend. The whole team goes and we really look forward to it.

Noelle: We do fundraisers leading up to it with Stuft pizza nights and t-shirts. This year we might have the most members ever. It's always a really cool event because we go to the middle school where Tom's wife used to teach, and she helps coordinate at that event, which is why we do it at a second weekend then the Santa Clara one.

Anna: She has battled cancer too so it's a personal thing for Tom.

Noelle: She was actually the speaker last year.

Anna: Oh yeah, she was really good.

Noelle: Yeah it was incredible. She's always so appreciative and happy; it's a really cool event.

SCU: At the beginning of the interview you were asked to pull a teammates name out of a hat. Now is your chance to talk about person you picked.

Anna talking about Veronica: After Veronica came back from a broken hip and had to be on crutches, she had been out for the entire season, it was the race two weeks before conference the time trial to see if she could make it onto the conference team. We always joked that Veronica is the "unaffected one" because when you running Veronica's just like (conveying that she is relaxed during races) "I'm just out for a jog, racing fast is so much fun! "So of course, Veronica in her unaffected self goes through the time trial and earns herself a spot on the conference team. We knew she would go out and do well, but at the same time, we thought she hasn't really been racing this season, and that's a hard course, a hard course to first of all come back on. It's hilly and really hard. So Veronica went out there and just killed it. So to come from not racing the entire season, and then almost make honorable mention all-conference, that's just amazing and a testament to Veronica's racing style. She seems to be this unaffected girl, but she goes out there, and you just do not mess with her.

Whitney talking about Noelle: It was our first 5k track race and Noelle ran 17:42, which was a huge PR and she was the happiest I've ever seen her in her entire life. She is in this play writing class and she really loves these plays and she is like "guys I'm going to read you this play right now I'm just so happy." This play ended up being like 15 minutes long and we were just sitting there. This is one of those times where people don't understand the feeling after a race. It's like ridiculous, especially after a good race like that. It also marks Noelle's breaking out and finally running what she could have run the whole time. That was a really good memory.

Veronica talking about Anna: It was actually at Willamette. We ran the race, it was a good race, but I think individually, Anna was not very happy with her race. We were all cooling down and we all just kind of separated and then we're coming back to the tent, and I guess Anna had been with Tom when she found out that what we won so she just immediately forgot that she was upset, the team was more important. That shows her character on the team, she obviously cares for us, and throughout the years when I've been injured, she's always been there.

Noelle talking about Whitney: This year I really had it in my head that I wanted to run a 10K and was really pumped for it. 25 laps of glory! So Whitney has in the past, mentioned 10Ks, and Stephanie had mentioned it too, this was mid-way through track season, and Whitney and I had been training together and racing together a lot. That's a story in itself this whole past track season. I would not have raced as well if it weren't for Whitney.

Whitney: I would not have raced as well if it weren't for you either Noelle.

Noelle: For this 10K, I started to get the feeling that I was a little bit more excited for it then Whitney was.

Whitney: I had second thoughts, it's a long race.

Noelle: 6.2 miles.

Noelle: We have this tradition of putting temporary tattoos on our left calf.

SCU: When did this start?

Noelle: For the 10K we had tiger tattoos and Whitney had a very fierce tiger and ended up running 37:14, which shattered the school record and is really fast. Whitney dropping time every single race was a great moment.