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Ram trio commits to USF

Ridgewood's Jim Vitale, Lizzy Leigh and Nancy Edwards will join the Bulls' track program next season.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood's loss will be South Florida's gain come the fall.

Three of the Rams' top track athletes -- Jim Vitale, Lizzy Leigh and Nancy Edwards -- have orally committed to run and jump for the Bulls' Division I-A track and field program.

Another senior, pole vaulter Jessica Penokie, is mulling over whether to join her teammates at USF's Tampa campus.

"It's great," Ridgewood girls track coach Sue Vien said. "Their hard work has paid off. They've reaped the benefits of the four years they've put into training and I'm just real happy for them. I'm real proud, too."

Vien said new USF coach Kelly Phillips is really taken with the Ridgewood seniors.

Vitale and Leigh, two of the county's top distance runners, will run the distance races for USF's track team and compete for the cross country squads as well.

Edwards will compete in the high, long and triple jumps. If Penokie commits to the Bulls as well, it would be in the pole vault.

Each has been offered a variety of partial scholarships and grant packages. The amount of aid would increase with their respective times, distances and accrued years of experience. "I just like the school and their track program," Vitale said. "They've got the best distance runners in the state. I also love the facilities, and I love the rec center.

"I just went up for a visit recently. I was thinking of Florida State, but they don't have much money for anything except football. Anyways, USF, they always have the best cross country teams."

Leigh said proximity helped USF win her over.

"I like that it's close by," she said. "I like the facilities and I like the coach there. She's really nice."

Edwards said the prospect of college track is a daunting one.

"It's a scary thing," she said. "I mean college track, that's a year-round season. But I want to see how it is my first year and see if I enjoy it."

Vien said making the adjustment from high school to college track should be easier for this bunch.

"What (USF) likes so much about these kids is their work ethic," she said. "It's an easy adjustment because they're used to a regimen. They're used to a program where they're expected to practice hard and produce.

"I know when our girls have gone to college, the hardest time is adjusting to practice and working hard in practice. But for them it's business as usual. It's a plus for them that they won't have to make that major adjustment."

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