By Ray Hamill — Banana slugs may not be known for their speed, but they are about to get a little faster.
Arcata senior Riley Martel-Phillips, who has dominated local high school distance running for the past few years, recently signed a letter of intent to run for UC Santa Cruz next year, where she will compete for the Banana Slugs in both cross country and track.
And for the three-time Humboldt-Del Norte League cross country champion, it’s a perfect fit for the next step in both her education and running career.
“I love Humboldt and I love my teammates, but I definitely want to explore some new places,” the Arcata senior said. “And I’m excited for the step up in competition and classes.”
Martel-Phillips, who has been unbeatable in local cross country since her sophomore season, also is a three-time league champion in the 1600 meters in track, and has led the way on a dominating and deep Arcata distance running contingent in recent times.
Along with teammate and exchange student Thea Norlund, the two runners set a remarkable pace this spring with the four fastest times in school history in the 1600m.
Martel-Phillips’ time of 5:12.39 at the recent NCS Redwood Empire meet was bettered only by Norlund, who set and broke the school record three times this season, including her best time of 5:06.14 at the Meet of Champions.
Martel-Phillips admits the two teammates brought out the better of each other in their year together, and that team camaraderie is one of the things she will miss most about competing for the Tigers.
“I don’t know that there’s one specific thing I’ll remember, but I’ll cherish the teammates I had and all the relationships I made through the years,” she said.
The decision to attend Santa Cruz came about thanks to two former Arcata teammates of hers, Kellen O’Neill and Solomon Reinman, each of whom now run for the school.
As a junior, Martel-Phillips was considering, in her own words, “a bunch of different colleges,” before O’Neill and Reinman stepped in.
“They connected me with the coach there,” she said, adding that she became interested immediately. “It was an amazing campus and it was super interesting and appealing to me.”
In November of this school year she was officially offered a spot on the team and she jumped at the opportunity.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge,” she said. “It’s going to take some adjustment.”
Martel-Phillips, who intends on majoring in Environmental Studies with an emphasis on economics, also paid tribute to her high school coaches, including long-time head coach James Washington and assistant Teresa Boatman.
“He taught me a lot about a strong work ethic,” she said of Washington. “And Teresa became a really close friend.”