Leander's Elizabeth Roca motivated by 'Competitive Love' on journey to state meet

The sophomore broke the school record in the 400-meter dash four times this year


Elizabeth Roca sent Leander head coach Gigi Heermans text after a second-place finish in the prelims at the district meet earlier this season: “I’m ready for tomorrow.”

She won the district title the next day and broke the school record. Again. 

The sophomore has set the school record in the 400-meter dash five times so far in her high school career. Now, she’s headed to her first state track and field meet this weekend in the event at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

“I love the feeling when you cross the finish line and you realize you won. It’s incredible,” Roca said. “When I was younger I was more generalized, but I found myself in this sport. I love how it’s an individual sport and also a team sport so get that family feeling.”

Roca most recently broke the school record in the prelims of the regional meet at Alamo Stadium in San Antonio on April 27, finishing the 400-meter dash 56.05 seconds. 

“For me to see that spark in her, that’s when I knew she was not going to settle or get beat,” Heermans said. “It was nice to see because she’s usually happy go lucky, but she showed that fighting spirit too.”

She couldn’t break one minute when she first got to high school but started to cut time as soon as she put on the Leander jersey. 

As a freshman, Roca went on vacation during spring break which she said killed any training momentum she built in the first part of the year. This year, she stayed back and continued training. 

It’s paid off, to say the least. 

“This year, it felt like a broke through a barrier,” Roca said. “A lot of it has been in the weight room. You don’t expect runners to need that muscle, but you do because the power of our arms go through our legs. It’s helped me push though the pain and get a faster start.”

The first month of the season, Roca had practice every day after school for an hour and a half, eventually dividing the team up by speed with practices varying in intensity based on when the meet was that week. 

Other workouts including running the bleachers and using a resistance band to work on form. 

“I don’t know if there’s a method to my madness,” Heermans said. “A lot of the workouts I’ll see how they perform the day before and I make adjustments. I will leave a workout sometimes thinking, ‘I’d hate me right now.’ They just continue to surprise me.”

In her first meet this season, she ran the 400-meters in 1:01. Her old personal record and the school record she set last year was a 57.3 so her goal entering the year was get below that mark. It took less than a month. 

“I accelerated so fast because my teammates were pushing me,” Roca said. “We’ve all cut down time together. I don’t want to be beat and they want to be beat. We work ourselves a little harder and we go a little faster.”

This won’t be the first time she’s competed at Mike A. Myers Stadium, having run in the Texas Relays the last two years. Both the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays set new personal records at the event early this year. 

Her goal at the state meet is to break the school record for a fifth time this season and sixth overall. Position matters far less to her, but because she was the ninth-place qualifier, she’s aiming for at least eighth. 

“I’ve never seen that kid out of her zone until her freshman year at Texas Relays,” Heermans said. “It really was deer in a headlights. When we competed this year, it was like nothing. It was just another track meet. It’s crucial to get kids an opportunity to perform in a big setting.” 

Roca especially enjoys the team aspect of track and was just as proud that both the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays advanced to the regional meet as she as getting to state as an individual. 

Heermans almost took Roca out of the 4x100-meter relay for the area meet to conserve some energy. She encourages her team to challenge for spots in the relay via a runoff in practice even Against her Heermans' wishes, Roca still wanted to fighter her spot. 

“She’s not a prima donna and she’s going to go where I asked her to go except when I try to pull her from something,” Heermans said. 

Roca knew she wanted to excel as a sport from a young age. She tried swimming, gymnastics and soccer to no avail. Finally, she laced up a pair of track spikes.  

She plans to go to medical school to become a gynecologist and hopes that a scholarship from track can help ease some of the financial burdens. But in the meantime, she wants to cut a few seconds off her current 400-meter time. 

“I’ve made such strong bonds with my teammates and my friends and my coach,” Roca said. “My life is centered on track and to see your times come down, it’s totally worth the sacrifice.”

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