Melissa Skiba didn’t have much experience running 5,000-meter races before this season.
The Cal Lutheran junior had only competed in the event twice in her entire career.
But Skiba figured she might have some success because her body responds well to longer distances.
Her instincts proved as precise as her execution.
Following an undefeated title run in conference, Skiba finished third in the 5,000 at the NCAA Division III Track and Field Championships in a lifetime-best and CLU-record time of 16 minutes, 40.91 seconds.
“I really do enjoy the 5K. It doesn’t seem that much longer than a two-mile and I don’t really think about what lap I am on during the race,” Skiba said. “I just kind of enjoy the whole thing and get into a rhythm and don’t count laps.”
Skiba won the 5K title at the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Championships in a time of 17:00.34 to break the 28-year-old meet record by 25 seconds. The Oak Park High graduate also won the 1,500 title to remain undefeated in the 5,000 and 1,500 in SCIAC competition for the season.
“It was nice not having one event I would always run every single meet,” Skiba said. “We switched it up a little where I would run the 1,500 and the next meet I might run the 5K. By the end, we kind of realized I would have a better chance of doing well at nationals in the 5K.”
The Star’s Female College Athlete of the Spring could have competed in
more events for the Regals, but the team’s depth allowed her to remain fresh and focused on two.
“The coaches were really good about only using me in events they needed me in and didn’t overwork me or anything,” she said. “They really listened to me and talked to me about how my body was feeling and how I felt about the situation.”
Skiba’s NCAA 5,000 performance capped her first year at CLU after transferring from UCLA. She finished 11th at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in the fall.
Although Skiba enjoys both running seasons, she has a clear favorite.
“I like track better because of the excitement of all the different events going on at the same time,” she said. “It is a little more intense and just the changing gears of speed is really exciting for me. In cross country, you keep the same pace the whole time. But in track, the race is a little more strategic and you get to pass people at the end. That is real fun for me.”
Along with earning first-team All-America and All-SCIAC honors, Skiba was the first CLU athlete to be named U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association Women’s West Region Track Athlete of the Year.
“I was really surprised. I didn’t even think about getting that award. I forgot they gave them out,” she said. “But if I had thought about it, I wouldn’t have bet I would have gotten it. I would have assumed there would have been someone else better out there. I am really honored because I know how many talented athletes there are and how hard everyone is working.”
Following the NCAA meet, Skiba took a couple weeks off to rest her body. She recently started running again near her home in Simi Valley, squeezing in workouts before her shifts as a waitress at Cronies Sports Grill.
As she approaches the final year of her college career, Skiba is excited about the future potential at CLU.
“We had a lot of young talented athletes this season and a big group that went to nationals, which I thought was pretty cool,” she said. “I am hoping we can do even better next season.”
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on July 2, 2013