Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We invited the 2020 seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. With the loss of the spring season we hope we can offer a chance to reflect on all the great moments this class did get to experience. Thank you to everyone who submitted, we still have quite a few to post and the series ends with July.
What was your most memorable race?
My most memorable race was the 2020 indoor Meet of Champions. It was the culmination of four years of hard work and turned out to be my last high school race ever. At that meet, I became the first girl in Meet of Champions history to win four consecutive 800 meter indoor titles. I didn't know it at the time, but it was the ending of my high school career and is truly a race I will always cherish.
Who would you consider your biggest competition over the past four years?
Residing in Union County gave me the opportunity to consistently have fierce competitors over the years in numerous events that pushed me to run some of my fastest times.
In my sophomore year in cross country, racing Jerika Lufrano of Union Catholic, we both ran personal bests in the 5,150m at the Union County Championships at Warinanco Park. The winning time broke the decades-old course record.
In the 800m, racing Leena Morant of Union Catholic, we obtained some of our best times, at both the county championships and Meet of Champions. In the fall Leena and I will officially be teammates at Penn State, and I am so excited for what we could accomplish together!
Vanriele leading the 2017 Meet of Champions 800m as a freshman.
What was your personal greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment was being named NJ Girls Gatorade Player of the Year last year for the second consecutive year. It is an honor to be recognized for my athletic achievements, as well as my academic success and community service. The highlight of winning was being allocated $1,000 twice to donate to a nonprofit organization that supports youth athletics. It was very empowering to be able to make a difference with the donations.
If you are writing a letter to your younger freshman self, what are some items that might include?
If I were to write a letter to my freshman self, I would tell myself that this time would fly by way faster than you could imagine. Nothing is promised, so seize every opportunity you have. Being able to make history by winning four consecutive Meet of Champions would not have been possible if as a freshman I shied away from competition. Sometimes, you won't have another meet to run a faster time and you can't put off trying your best because you believe you'll have another chance. If the cancellation of my final season due to the coronavirus pandemic has taught me anything, it's that sometimes in life you would not have a second chance, so always put forward your best effort at the present time.
What will you miss the most?
I will miss my teammates, coaches, parents, and the support that I received from my hometown. Especially during this period of quarantine, I realized how much more gratifying it is to have teammates to train alongside. My teammates have become some of my closest friends and I'll miss them so much when I go off to college in the fall.
I will also miss my coaches and parents who were always there to support me and provide me with every opportunity possible to be successful. My middle distance coach, Coach Dhaibar, wrote a motivational quote on a notecard and gave a different one to each distance runner before a championship race. My head coach, Coach Guyton, incentivized our relays to run school records or win championships with the promise of after-meet restaurant stops, which honestly was a motivating factor and is something I will miss.
My parents came to every single meet, with my dad videotaping my races. He woke up early to buy a fresh bagel from the bagel shop at 5 am, when it opened, to make me the same breakfast before every single meet. I could always count on my mom to shout out my splits and cheer for me quite audibly at the finish line. I cherish the support I received from my high school and Berkeley Heights town. It felt special to be recognized for my athletic achievements by administrators, as well as being called on to share my experiences with younger students and serve as a role model for those coming up in the school district.
What advice would you give to younger athletes?
I would advise younger upcoming athletes that good character is the most important trait to have and strong academics open more doors than you could imagine. I would also advise them to set challenging but realistic athletic goals, and focus on working hard to achieve these goals. Additionally, they should embrace competition as a means of improving but don't overly fixate on individual competitors. Instead, measure success by personal improvement. The only things you could control are your training and racing, so focus on those and less on your competitors. Most importantly, every bit of improvement counts and should be celebrated, especially since future opportunities to improve are not guaranteed.
Vanriele at the 2019 Mt. Sac Relays.
What influence has your coach had with respect to your performance and overall life goals?
My coaches were fully influential in my success. They provided a reliable and harmonious structure so that I could train and race successfully. They facilitated my entrance into high level competitions, such as: the Dr. Sanders Invite and the Millrose Games in New York City, the New Balance Grand Prix in Boston, Mt. Sac Relays in Los Angeles, and the Brooks PR Invite in Seattle, Washington. They were always considerate of not having me over-race to ensure that I remain injury-free for four years. They worked hard to help improve my running efficiency. They enthusiastically provided reference letters to support my many achievements. In all, they enabled me to have a balance of wide-ranging experiences in preparation for college, which I truly appreciate.
What are your post-high school or college plans?
I will be competing for the Penn State Nittany Lions in college. I have been admitted to the Penn State Schreyer Honors College with a major in the Smeal Business School.
Who would you like to say 'thank you' to?
I would like to say thank you to my coaches, parents, my high school administrators, teachers, and teammates for all of their support and always making me feel appreciated and valued these past four years.
Thank you to Coach Guyton for being a great manager, strategic, timely, and firm yet understanding. You not only facilitated my racing in high level invitationals, but you prioritized my running longevity.
Thank you to Coach Dhaibar who has been my direct coach for four years, and has prioritized my emotional wellbeing.
Thank you to my teammates. You guys have made my four years on the team fun and memorable.
Thank you to my parents whose active support is the reason I am where I'm at today.
Anything else to add?