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Journal North Prep Athlete of the Year

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

The annual selection of the prep athletes of the year can sometimes be an excruciating endeavor. This year, ever more so.

With all sports compressed into a few months of competition time, high school athletes were bouncing from sport to sport to sport, sometimes after missing nearly a full year of training of any kind.

Couple that with rather vague criteria and, well, let’s just say it is an inexact science at best. Individual success, team success and versatility all play a role.

For Santa Fe Prep’s Isabel Voinescu, her individual success cannot be questioned, as she won the Class A-4A individual state tennis championship, then came back the very next week to win gold medals in the 100-meter dash and the long jump, along with a silver in the triple jump and a bronze in the 200, earning high point female and helping her squad to an overall third-place finish in 3A.

Taking all of that into consideration makes Voinescu, a rising senior, the Journal North Female Athlete of the Year.

Her coaches said the choice was an easy one.

“She’s a remarkable young lady,” said Blue Griffins track and field coach Douglas Turco. “She’s a delight to coach.”

And tennis coach Ralph Bolton added, “She has been willing to come to 7 a.m. practice because, in the afternoon, she practices track. She’s a very hard worker. A superb athlete. She’s extremely intelligent. And she’s as good a person as she is a tennis player.”

Born in Farmington, her family moved to Santa Fe when she was fairly young. But the family has Romanian roots, still visits there frequently and Voinescu speaks the language fluently.

Both of her parents are nephrologists, so she has an understandable attraction to medicine and plans to go pre-med when she gets to college.

But, Voinescu said, athletics are quite important to her as well, and she hopes to be able to play one of her sports in college.

“I love them both so much,” she said, “But if I had to choose, it would probably be tennis.”

Voinescu first picked up a racquet when she was about 10 and very quickly realized she had a proclivity for it.

“I really liked the physical and the mental challenge of the sport,” she said. “And I just continued.”

It plays to her strengths, Voinescu said.

“I think, mentally, I’m really strong,” she said. “I think it’s actually most of the game. Everyone is really good physically. How you win a match is more mental. At the beginning of the match, it isn’t predicted who wins. It’s a really big mental sport and I think I’m strong in that area.”

Her coach said she has classic form on the court.

“She has a great serve and beautiful ground strokes,” Bolton said. “What always surprises me is (despite) how good a player she is, she still gets more nervous than she should.”

Nevertheless, she is one of the leaders for the Santa Fe Prep tennis team.

“She leads just by example,” Bolton said. “Everybody looks up to her because of that. She is great to the other players, She’s respectful to all the coaches. A good student. The kind of person any coach would want to coach. The only possible conflict is she’s so good at both sports. In a selfish way, I would love for her to do just tennis. But I would never want to put any boundaries on her.”

Her choices of sports are interesting because they are so different, Turco said.

“They’re very different sports,” he said. “In track and field, everything is fast forward. Sprinting, jumping, the relays, there’s no lateral movement. In tennis, there’s a great deal of that, you’re constantly moving side to side. And tennis is a very creative game, whereas, in track and field, there’s not much creativity.”

In track and field, however, Voinescu is a sponge.

“She is one of those people that has complete command of her body in terms of any kind of tips or pointers you give her, and she’s able to take that coaching and apply it to her next jump or what whatever endeavor it might be,” Bolton said. “That type of application is not easy for anyone. It takes little tweaks to adjust and apply them, and it says a lot about her mental and physical prowess to be able to do that.”

Given that the track season in New Mexico this year was almost entirely after school was completed, the Blue Griffins were without any graduating seniors and had to rely on a number of younger athletes.

So Voinescu was asked to be one of the team captains.

“It was another role we asked her to assume, to take on this leadership,” Bolton said. “We needed our captains to assume a greater role during practice, not just leading warm-ups and stretches, but also providing instructions at times. Relay hand offs, or starting blocks. As coaches, we’re stretched across the distance of the track trying to cover everyone and we’re not always able to reach everyone. So, the captains took on some of that assistant coaching role and she stepped up. She has tremendous experience and insight, and was willing to share that and help lift the team up.”

She got her first taste of track in the seventh grade because Santa Fe Prep requires students to learn it during their P.E. classes.

“We had a fake kind of meet for the school, and I really liked it and I did really well,” Voinescu recalled. “So, I started running track for the team and it’s been really fun.”

And jumping, apparently, was a natural continuation of her own exuberance for life.

“I like jumping in general,” Voinescu said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I skipped everywhere I went instead of walked.”

The state track meet was something of a trial as it was condensed into one day instead of two, so athletes were competing all over the track in different events at the same time.

“I had like three events in an hour,” Voinescu said. “You have to keep telling yourself to ‘Go, go go. You can rest later.’ You just keep focused and have fun with it. After the 100, I had a break before the 200 and I was a little confused. ‘What am I supposed to do?’ It was strange. I could rest a little bit.”

This summer, she has stepped out of her comfort zone and is doing an internship with a local company in computers, research and coding, but she’s quite focused on following her parents into medicine.

“I grew up learning about what they would do, and it really fascinated me to help people and solve problems every day,” Voinescu said. “Your whole life revolves around helping people and trying to figure out the best solutions for the problem.”