By Jenna Principe, USD junior Marketing major & Communication Studies minor
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - For USD Track and Cross-Country runner Sam Mattice, running didn't always come easily. Her earliest running memories include being outpaced by her mother, a former high school and collegiate runner, who encouraged occasional runs as a bonding experience between the two. Mattice could barely make it a mile. Little did she know, what began as a casual mother-daughter bonding experience would eventually prosper into her unending love of running, and eventually, an astounding collegiate running career.
"My mom ran in high school and college and has always been a runner in my eyes," Mattice explained. "When I first started going on runs with her, she would constantly wait for me to catch up. I just enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with my mom and I loved the way it made me feel. After a little while, it just `clicked' and I couldn't go a day without it."
Before long, one-mile runs turned into five and six miles and this Phoenix native became an avid runner, continuing her running passion through high school at Xavier College Preparatory. Today, the USD incoming junior competes for the Toreros in both cross-country and track, where her record has been nothing short of impressive.
Long gone are the difficulties of completing a mile, as the runner now treks with a `longer the distance the better' mentality and was quick to mention that the 10k (track) is her personal favorite to compete in. While 25 laps may appear daunting to most, Mattice gracefully admits that the strategy and rewards of competing in such a race far outweigh the physical tolls.
"The longer the race, the better," she stated. "I competed in the 10k for the first time this past track season at Mt. SAC and fell in love with the event."
Not only did she compete in the race for the first time this past track season, she broke the school record with a time of 34:54.88 (5:35 pace), in addition to setting personal records in four out of the five races she was entered in throughout the season.
The athlete now boasts three school records in the 5k (cross-country), 6k (cross-country), and 10k (track); all of which were achieved during her sophomore season, including beating out a 6k record she previously set her freshman year.
Head Coach Will Guarino admits to be "taken aback" by her talent, positive energy and work ethic. When Mattice initially came to USD, Guarino saw abundant potential for her to fill the shoes of just-graduated runner Gillian Gorelik, deemed by Guarino as USD's "most decorated runner."
"There was an opportunity for us to fill a void for Gillian Gorelik," he said. "In high school, Sam was the No. 4 girl on her cross-country team, then she came along to USD and immediately took the top spot on our team. She was diligent and came in ready to attack her freshman season."
Fast-forward to almost two years later and Mattice is undoubtedly living up to these expectations. Beyond breaking three school records in the 2015-2016 season, she was also named team MVP and became the first track athlete in USD history to be named the San Diego Hall of Champions Star of the Month this past May.
"I was initially shocked, but I felt extremely honored [to be awarded Star of the Month]," she humbly stated. "When I came to USD, I was just excited to be able to run and represent such a prestigious, Division I university. I never even thought that opportunities and achievements like this would come along with it."
In addition to her stellar athletic career, Mattice upholds an impressive 3.91 GPA while majoring in Communications and minoring in Business Administration. The runner even attributed much of her academic success to being an athlete.
"Having morning practices and afternoon weight sessions creates a schedule for me with designated time slots to get specific assignments done," she said. "[My busy schedule] keeps me motivated and constantly on the go so that there is no time to procrastinate."
Dominating athletics and academics, Mattice makes the ever-busy life of a college athlete look easy. But things haven't always been easy for Mattice who, in high school, dealt with some serious physical injuries, and learned of her diagnoses with celiac disease. Mattice keeps health and injury-prevention at the forefront of her training regimen.
"I was injured for most of high school and quite sick during my senior year due to medical issues. Lack of nutritional absorption has been a difficult obstacle for me with my running and has made me more injury-prone."
But obstacles can't stop this powerhouse. Mattice said that her time at USD has been the most consistently healthy and injury free part of her running career. She remains humbled, grateful and future-oriented.
"I try to enjoy the moment as much as possible. I don't want to waste a single moment of it because I only have four years that I am given the privilege to wear a USD uniform and represent my school to the best of my abilities."
As for her goals for the upcoming year, Mattice is ready to take on her junior season by "staying healthy, working hard as a team, and finishing strong."
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