When Haley Romero signed her letter of intent to compete for the Fresno Pacific University track and field team, a flood of emotions encompassed her.
“I knew I had made the right choice on where I would spend my next two years in college,” said Romero, the former Christopher High standout who recently completed her sophomore season at Hartnell College. “I was ready to make that next step and take that jump.”
Jumping is something Romero does well. At last month’s California Community College Athletic Association State Championships, Romero finished in fifth place—the only NorCal finisher in the top five—in the long jump with a mark of 18 feet, 4 ½ inches.
Romero took eighth in the triple jump with a mark of 35-10 ¼, which was also the best finish from a NorCal competitor. Romero also led off Hartnell’s 4×100 relay team that finished seventh.
By earning a scholarship to Fresno Pacific, the previous doubts Romero had on whether she was good enough to receive a scholarship offer from a four-year school were vanquished. Romero grew both athletically and emotionally in a sophomore season that saw her develop added confidence and physicality.
In the Northern California Championships, Romero placed fourth in the 100-meter hurdles.
Romero’s versatility helped the Panthers to their second NorCal championship in program history. After two strong years at Hartnell, Romero leaves with a tremendous amount of satisfaction, knowing she had reached her goals upon entering the community college in Salinas.
“Coming in I had real high expectations,” she said. “With the coaching staff here, they take you to a higher level.”
Romero credited coach Chris Zepeda and her jumps coach, Wendell Sells, for lifting her to new heights. Romero wanted to make Sells proud, and that’s exactly what happened. Romero established a personal-record (PR) of 18-9 ¼ in the long jump at the Coast Conference Championships, which was one of the top highlights of her season.
She followed that up with a mark of 18-5 at NorCals and 18-4 ½ at state, a testament to her consistency.
“It was definitely a huge breakthrough both mentally and physically,” she said. “I know my coaches were super proud of me, and they had a lot to do with my success at Hartnell.”
Although Romero’s accomplishment in the long jump was stellar, her results in the triple jump might have been more impressive. That’s because Romero only took up the event with eight weeks left in the season. Romero competed in the triple event only three or four times before the state meet.
“My jumps coach said let’s try something new, and that maybe my body would respond well to it,” she said. “The triple jump is a really fun event, and it was refreshing to my body and mind. I had sprinted and done hurdles my whole life, and doing the triple jump really gave me a boost.”
Romero admits had she enrolled in a four-year school out of high school, she would’ve gotten homesick and ended up back in Gilroy. And that’s perfectly OK. Not everyone is ready to leave home straight out of high school, so the two years at Hartnell proved to be just what Romero needed to prepare her for Fresno Pacific.
“Coming to Hartnell made me realize I can run track and jump at the collegiate level, and that I was ready for it,” she said. “I came to Hartnell ready to get some big marks and qualify for the state meet in multiple events, and everyone here at Hartnell helped me achieve those goals. I’m super grateful for everything that’s happened, and I’m excited for the future.”
Hartnell coach Chris Zepeda was effusive in his praise for Romero in all things.
“I’ve always been impressed with her competitiveness and this year I feel she really learned how to balance that with the enjoyment of her events and as a leader on the team,” Zepeda told the Dispatch in a text message. “She never missed an 8 a.m. weight room session which might be her most impressive stat this spring. That consistency guided her to the two top 10 all-time marks for us along with an additional top 15 in the triple jump. She’s a great pickup for Fresno Pacific not just for her marks but who she is as a person.”
When Romero signed her letter of intent a little over a month ago, the moment overwhelmed Romero and her mom, Lori. The two cried as they celebrated a moment that signified Romero’s hard work and perseverance. Romero was thoroughly satisfied with the scholarship package from Fresno Pacific, and she can’t wait to see how she will develop further. One thing is for certain: Hartnell made her a bona-fide collegiate athlete.
“The two years at Hartnell have made me a better athlete, better person, a stronger woman,” she said. “I’ve matured, gotten stronger and grown, but I’m ready for the next step. The experience at the junior college level is definitely something I would recommend to anybody.”