RANDOLPH, NJ- Suffering an ACL injury as a freshman in high school is a big setback for any competitive athlete, from both a mental and physical standpoint. Suffering a second ACL injury as a sophomore on the opposite knee would typically spell the end of that athlete’s career.
But not for Randolph Senior Alyssa Romagnoli, who has continued to pursue her passion of being an athlete; and is doing it with an almost unbelievable level of success.
“I am an athlete and athletes compete,” said Romagnoli. “When you get ‘knocked down’ hard twice, you keep fighting. I just knew in my heart I could keep going.”
Romagnoli took to athletics at a very young age. She was that player who clearly stood out to parents on both sidelines for her youth track, basketball, softball, lacrosse, and soccer teams. At 9 years old, Romagnoli set the all-time Randolph 10-U record for the 100m dash and was crowned the Lakeland League Champion. The record still stands today.
Through middle school, Romagnoli continued to excel in sports, specifically in soccer, where her running ability made her an unstoppable force. In 8th Grade, Romagnoli played on a town travel team that was coached by Colleen Suflay, the Randolph HS girls’ soccer coach for the past 25 years.
During her time as varsity soccer coach and Physical Education teacher in Randolph, coach Suflay has certainly seen her fair share of great athletes, having sent some of her own players off to Division I soccer programs.
“When I first coached Alyssa in 8th grade, I felt that she was one of the best all-around athletes I had seen in 25 years—reminding me of Vanessa Lewis from Morris Catholic in the mid-1990’s,” said Suflay, who also tabbed Romagnoli as her team captain that season.
Romagnoli was playing in a Match Fit Academy soccer game in May 2017 when a collision caused her to tear her right ACL, forcing her to remain out of sports for six months.
“Alyssa was a Varsity starter during most of her freshman year for my soccer team before she got injured,” Suflay explained. “She worked relentlessly to make a comeback for soccer, but then she suffered a devastating second ACL injury.”
The second injury occurred in May 2018, exactly 12 months after the first, as Romagnoli tore her left ACL in practice during her PDA club soccer season.
“I focused first on walking and building strength, then jogging, agility, running, and finally sprinting,” said Romagnoli. “After the 2nd ACL, it was time to hang up the soccer cleats. No one questioned that I would succeed in track, but I wondered if I could be as fast as I once was.”
Having decided to join the spring track team for Randolph High School, Romagnoli credits the support of her family and Coach Suflay as important factors that inspired her to run again.
In her junior year, Romagnoli built up her leg strength by running the 4X400m relay. Randolph’s legendary track coach Len Pietrewicz pushed her into running faster races late in the season, like the 200m and 100m, even though she had no knowledge of using blocks. She still placed an impressive 9th in the 200m at the County Finals, and 15th in the State Sectional Finals for the 100m even though she had not run either one all spring.
It wasn’t until December 2019, during the winter indoor season, where Romagnoli truly felt she could run at her full potential. By the time most of the top runners in the state are seniors, coaches and athletes from competing schools all know ‘who is who’, as the names and faces in the final heats are typically the same year after year. Now a senior in her first winter season, Romagnoli crashed the party.
“After some of our meets, coaches and other runners were asking about Alyssa wondering where she came from,” said Pietrewicz, who has been coaching Randolph track for 48 years. “They all assumed she just moved here from somewhere out of state.”
Currently, Romagnoli sits at #2 in Morris County for the 55m dash. Her time clocks her in as the #11 senior in NJ and #94 senior in the USA, an incredible achievement for having never run that race until this season. As for the 300m, Romagnoli sits at #3 in Morris County, while her times rank her as the #4 senior in NJ and #76 senior in the USA.
“It is incredible what Alyssa has been able to achieve in what is really still just her first full year running high school track,” said Pietrewicz. “Her times are up there in the top three all-time for Randolph track history dating back into the 1970s. That is from an athlete who is just learning the technical aspect of running a race.”
In the long and storied history of Randolph track, a program that has sent countless athletes off to run in college, Romagnoli's times have her ranked #2 all time in the 55m and #3 all time in the 300m after running just four meets.
Interestingly, Romagnoli has PR’d in the 55m and 300m in every one of her four meets, a rare feat.
Romagnoli is currently training at High Intensity Track in Fairfield. Her coach there, Dave Lado, was a collegiate track athlete at Rider University and is a current coach at Ramapo College. Lado has been training college and high school runners for nine years.
“I believe Alyssa has a lot of untapped potential, and after working with her for just over 5 months she has continued to show tremendous progression,” said Lado. “I would classify her as one of my better sprinters. The main part of all this is the dedication and commitment she has put in during the past year to truly grow as a young athlete.”
Lado further added, “While I feel there is still much for her to learn, she has shown me that she has the potential to compete collegiately.”
Romagnoli claims the most rewarding aspects of her comeback were learning persistence, determination, disappointment, but most of all patience.
“I have had some early success on the track this winter, but the journey hasn't ended,” said Romagnoli. “I want to run track in college. Because I was not 100% healed last spring, I am playing catch-up with recruiting. I am just learning the blocks and how to run races properly. I am hoping a college coach realizes that my best is yet to come when I arrive at a college campus next Fall.”
As the winter track season winds down and her spring season is on the horizon, Romagnoli is looking for a college to take a chance on her athletic ability. Even with her physical setbacks, she has remained a dominant athlete. Romagnoli is the type who is not afraid to work hard, something she had to do for over 2 years to come back from her injuries.
“When it comes to conditioning, Alyssa is relentless–a force few have,” said Suflay. “She may be one of the last uncommitted ‘diamonds in the rough’ in NJ.”
As she continues to learn the skills on the track, only time will tell just how fast she can be. Romagnoli’s perseverance, without a doubt, demonstrates her character and will influence her running success for seasons to come.
“There is a lucky college coach out there somewhere who doesn’t know this right now - but they are going to be really happy they took a chance on her,” said Pietrewicz.