By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s a success story with an extremely happy ending, one that finishes with a college scholarship.
Aislinn Sroczynski is a Kearny High School senior, someone who began running cross country on a whim two years ago after being a soccer player.
As it turns out, Sroczynski becomes a good runner, much like her father, Steve, her mother Heather and her uncle Frank were at Kearny during their scholastic heyday.
“I had just quit playing soccer and started to run and Coach (Jim) Cifelli told me that my times were pretty good,” Sroczynski said. “And he told me that I could run in college.”
So Srocyznski, who finished 10th at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV cross country championships last fall and earned First Team All-Hudson County honors from the county’s coaches association, decided to send out questionnaires to colleges in Florida.
The reason for Florida? “I wanted to go south,” Sroczynski said. “I just hate the cold weather. All the snow we’ve had recently? I hate it.”
So Sroczynski started to think about going to her first choice, Florida State.
“But I wasn’t sure I could run there,” Sroczynski said.
So then Cifelli put the idea of the University of Tampa in Sroczynski’s mind. As it turned out, Cifelli had a contact at the University of Tampa and he made a call.
“It worked out for her,” Cifelli said.
Last Wednesday, Sroczynski signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a scholarship.
“I went for a visit and I really liked it,” Sroczynski said. “The coaches paid me a lot of attention and the girls on the team were very nice and they accepted me. As it turns out, Tampa races against schools like Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida. It’s the kind of competition I wanted, just in a smaller pond.”
Sroczynski said that her grandfather lives in the Tampa area.
“So I have someone there if I need him,” Sroczynski said. “It really is perfect.”
Sroczynski said that she had Cifelli to thank for her scholarship package.
“He’s the one who pushed me along,” Sroczynski said. “He told me what schools would be interested in me and made me fill out the questionnaires. I gave him a new list of schools every week and he called every coach for me. He got the best response for me and stayed on me. He convinced me I had the ability to be a runner in college. He took all the negative thoughts out of my head. It’s pretty awesome. I’m so excited.”
Cifelli, who is retiring as a coach this year after a storied 40-plus year career, said that he was glad to help.
“She’s a great kid,” Cifelli said. “Not everyone can become a professional athlete, but you can find a kid a scholarship to college. It’s great that schools give kids the chance to open the world for them. She tugs at my heartstrings a little. My wife taught her in fifth grade. She’s a tough, little kid with a great heart.
Added Cifelli, “She loved the place and she’s very happy, both academically and athletically.”
Cifelli has helped other Kearny track athletes like Cayleigh Solano (LaSalle) and Brian Mendes and Esther Alfaro (NJIT).
“This is a great way for them to end their Kearny career,” Cifelli said. “It’s nice to see kids excel.”
Sroczynski said that she will major in political science at Tampa.
“I like politics,” Sroczynski said. “I hope I can eventually get into law school. My dream is to someday get involved in government.”
Sroczynski is still walking on Cloud Nine.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be running in college,” Sroczynski said. “I never thought I’d be a college athlete. There’s no way I thought this was possible. Thank God I had Cifelli. He guided me the whole way. I can’t believe I’m signing a letter on signing day like other athletes. It’s a little surreal. Now, I’m just counting the days until I can go to Tampa.”