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Roslyn's Lipari is choosing track over soccer

At the New Balance Games Track and Field

At the New Balance Games Track and Field events, Roslyn's Emily Lipari gets first in the mile. (January 22, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Photo By Patrick E. McCarthy

Her secret is a form of athletic multitasking. By her own calculations, Roslyn senior Emily Lipari has enhanced her bona fides as a champion distance runner by playing elite-level age-group soccer. Almost simultaneously.

In a typical day, she participates in workouts with the high school cross country and track team, then joins her Syosset Sting club for soccer practice. “Sort of, it works out,” said her mother, Terry Lipari. “Sometimes.”

At 17, Lipari has built a reputation for fast times and late charges in foot racing — she won the high school indoor national mile last spring by coming from 20 meters off the pace — as well as an attacking midfielder in soccer. So more than one sport has been getting a kick out of this kid. What spectators at the 103th Millrose Games will see from Lipari in the girls’ invitational high school mile Friday night at Madison Square Garden is basically what observers saw at a recent soccer tournament at Disney World. Bursts of speed. Late heroics.

Alas, her double life is almost over. While college track powers Villanova, Oregon, Georgetown and Providence all aggressively recruited Lipari, so did soccer coaches from Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Tennessee and Kentucky. After years of playing one sport off the other, Lipari had to make a decision.

She will attend Villanova on a track scholarship.

“In soccer, you have a team aspect,” she said. “It’s really a second family, and the coach is like your mom or dad. It’s really hard to let go. But it’s going to wind down for me.”

Track followers, those knowledgeable souls who deal so much in decimals and become misty eyed over the kind of performances Lipari has delivered throughout her high school career, are giddy over the choice. Ian Brooks, an organizer for various New York running events, gushed at the weekly gathering of New York Track Writers that Lipari “is a veritable heart-stopper and heartbreaker; she wins races when all seems lost.”

And maybe, Lipari offered with a shrug, that skill set comes from years of soccer, the quick flares of top speed necessary in the midst of incessant running.

She played soccer first, starting around the age of 4. “A good friend’s father — Rich Sloper — saw her playing in about third grade,” Lipari’s mother said. “He said, ‘Is that your daughter? She’s pretty quick.’” He invited her to run for his CYO track team.

“And they set a CYO third-grade record for the 4x100 relay in her first race,” her mother said. “Rich started her first because she couldn’t take the baton pass. I always thought she’d play soccer in college. She always was in club soccer, traveling all over the place, and in middle school she thought, ‘If I do cross country, it’ll probably help my soccer.’ But she won every race.”

Her older brother Thomas, now a sophomore member of the Marist College cross country team, “had a lot to do with screwing her head on straight for running,” said their father, Joe Lipari. “He was always giving her pointers. I remember the state outdoor 3,000 when she was a sophomore; she won, and it had a lot to do with him telling her when she should make her move, discussing strategy.”

Lipari’s parents — Joe is an engineer who works for Estee Lauder and Terry works in customer service — both were high school sprinters growing up in Queens, so Lipari’s genes are a help. The irony, Joe said, was that he worried for years that a soccer injury could sidetrack his daughter’s running advancement, but it was a stress fracture in her lower leg in November — a typical runner’s malady — that knocked her out of commission for more than a month.

She is now fully recovered. And her attitude, a benefit on those occasions when she had to storm from behind, endures. “I guess I never thought, ‘I’m going to win,’” she said, “so I went for it and hoped for the best.”

The best, so far, includes personal records of 4:47.44 in the mile, 4:28.92 in the 1,500 meters, 17:10.90 in the 5,000. Now, without soccer in college, might it double her energy supply for running?

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