When Anna Rybczynski officially signs her letter of intent to attend Wake Forest in November, the West Seneca West runner should do an Irish jig for old times sake.
After all, the former Irish dancer turned her dream of running for a program in a Division I major conference into reality when she caught the eyes of coaches at the Atlantic Coast Conference school.
“It’s pretty crazy to think I’ve done it,” the 17-year-old Rybczynski said. “It’s just awesome to think I’ve achieved something like this.”
Rybczynski, who also received an offer from Northeastern, has run cross-country and track since seventh grade for West Seneca West. She’s a five-time Section VI track and field champion, winning indoor titles in the 600 meters and 1,000; and outdoor crowns in the 1,500, 800 and 400 hurdles. She has broken seven program records.
Rybczynski’s best finish at sectionals for cross-country is second, but she has helped the Indians win two Section VI Class A titles.
She plans to run cross-country and track at Wake Forest.
The road to Division I began with Irish dancing, something Rybczynski did competitively for 13 years until a year ago. It helped her become one of the top scholastic runners in Western New York.
“Your body is doing something you’re not used to because you have to jump in the air while still looking as perfect as possible,” Rybczynski said. “Irish dancing to me is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Having the strength of Irish dancing, that helped me get through races on the track and in cross-country.”
Irish dancing helped make her core muscles strong. So much so that when Rybczynski first attempted the 400 hurdles last year, “It was almost like I had done it before,” she said.
She captured the Section VI title last spring and followed that up with a weekend to remember as she set the program record for the 400 hurdles (1:30.17) during the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association and Federation championships at Cicero-North Syracuse. In addition to putting up a great time, she placed second in the state public schools race and fifth in the Federation meet, earning two medals for her efforts.
“The determination she has in wanting to succeed ... when you have a kid like Anna, when we first saw her in seventh grade," West Seneca West coach Pete Szymanski said, "we knew we had something special.”
Wake Forest assistant coach Andrew Ferris apparently saw something special in Rybczynski, too. Szymanski said Wake had pursued Rybczynski since last spring. Ferris visited the family last summer.
“That’s really unheard of in track,” Szymanski said. “You hear about coaches making home visits in football. He wanted to get to know her a bit better and see where she comes from. They were pushing hard.”
Rybczynski could run the steeplechase in college. To prepare for it, she may concentrate on the event during the spring season. But that’s still months away.
She’s focusing on finishing cross-country season strong.
Szymanski said Rybczynski ran one of her best races of the season last week to win a dual meet against Lancaster. He believes it’s because she no longer has the college decision weighing on her.
Rybczynski won the West Seneca West Invitational last month.
It’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the season goes because there isn’t a shortage of strong female runners in the area. East Aurora’s Megan McLaughlin, Lockport’s Sydney Nowicki and Maple Grove’s Christina Peppy are among the contenders to compete with Rybczynski for the Section VI championship Nov. 2 at Bemus Point.
Rybczynski admits running track events comes easier to her than cross-country (her best finish in the state meet is 32nd). That said, as long as her best helps West win another sectional title, she’ll be content. So, too, will her teammates.
That might even be cause for a happy dance.