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Verga plans to cap a stellar career

River Ridge senior Jessica Verga was a workhorse for the Knights this season, competing in five events per meet.

By JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 3, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Jessica Verga's demeanor is so nice and so pleasant, that it's surprising when her almost-a-whisper voice picks up a few octaves in annoyance.

But she can't help it. Whenever anyone looks at Verga's 6-foot-1 frame and just assumes the River Ridge senior track star was born a great athlete, it just, well, it really bugs her.

After all, she worked hard to be this good.

"They think that because I'm so tall and my strides are so long, that's why I'm good," she said. "But I have to build as much muscles as everybody else. I have to work hard, too.

"It annoys me when people say, 'You're naturally good.' You might have a better ability to do something, but you have to work for everything you get."

Verga did, and so she has.

She has dominated the county this season, competing in five events per meet to help River Ridge finish runner-up to the Ridgewood juggernaut at virtually every major meet this year. She was the top scorer at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet, winning the 100 and 200, taking second in the 400, third in the high jump and fifth in the triple jump.

Today, she will compete in the 200- and 400-meter sprints in the Class 4A, Region 2 meet at Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer's Blum Stadium and vie to return to the state meet. She hopes it will be the last shining moments in what has been a brilliant career.

After all, when you shatter Jackie Waller's school points record -- Waller scored 245 points, Verga 285 so far this season -- you must be special.

"I didn't think anyone would ever beat Jackie Waller's record," Knights coach Dave Heywood said. "But Jessica did it, and we even had one meet rained out this season."

She's just as good academically, with a 3.9 grade point average, Advanced Placement classes and National Honor Society membership. She's active in school with the Interact club, and after school with her 17-year-old Morgan quarter horse Magic.

On the track, it's hard to miss Verga, one of the county's most popular athletes. Chants of "Go Jess go" could be heard at virtually every meet.

It's just one of many reasons why Heywood doesn't want to imagine what his team will look like without her.

"Oh, she's been the team this season," he said. "She's a very tall girl, 6-1, but not a gangly 6-1. She's a very athletic 6-1, plus she has speed and she's very coordinated.

"You top all of that with the fact that she's a hard worker, and that's a good formula for success."

Verga holds the school record in the 4x800 with older sisters Kim and Melissa (the "Verga relay") and set a new school record in the 400 eight times this season, now running a 60.16. Which is remarkable considering she was a better jumper than runner last year (she went to state in the high jump in 2000).

She'll attend Florida in the fall, and hopes to walk-on the track team. If anyone can do it, Heywood said, it's Verga.

"I think you get what you put into it," she said, "but it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort."

Class 3A, Region 3 track meet

WHO: The top four place-winners in districts 9-12

WHERE: Tornado Alley Stadium, Sarasota Booker High

SCHEDULE: Today -- Field events and the 4x800 relay start at 1 p.m. Running preliminaries are at 4 and running finals are at 7. Trophy presentation is at 10.

ADMISSION: $5

DIRECTIONS: Take Interstate 75 south and get off at Exit 40 onto University Parkway. Travel west to U.S. 301, make a left. Then take a right on Myrtle Street. The campus is located on the corner of Orange Avenue and Myrtle. AT STAKE: The top four finishers in each event advance to the Class 3A Florida Finals on May 11 at Coral Springs High. Ribbons will be awarded to the top six finishers. Team championship and runner-up trophies will also be awarded.

OUTLOOK: Is today the day the Ridgewood girls finally win their first regional title? The Rams are as loaded as ever, led by Nancy Edwards, Jessica Penokie, Lizzy Leigh and defending high jump state champion Shawna Luikart. Ridgewood's Jim Vitale is virtually bound for state. Land O'Lakes has high hopes for its large contingent. Gulf sprinters Courtney Burns, Climmie Collins, Michelle Sigona and Anna Szwejkowska had a great showing at districts in the 4x100.

LOCAL QUALIFIERS: Hudson: Steve Gordon (shot put); Renee Peterson (pole vault); Erica Schultz (100 high hurdles); boys 4x800 relay (Jonathan Bell, Chris Hurtado, Joe Lisiecki, Mike Meares). Gulf: Barbara Carr (2,300); Climmie Collins (100); Melissa Dattoli (3,200); Jeff Hines (3,200); Trent Kennison (200, 800, long jump); Megan Rashid (shot put); Dawn Selvidge (300 intermediate hurdles); Michelle Sigona (200); Anna Szwejkowska (110); Cindy Wade (pole vault); boys 4x100 relay (Joe Kuzimono, Chris Scott, Kenny Ray, Kennison); girls 4x100 relay (Courtney Burns, Collins, Sigona, Szwejkowska); girls 4x800 relay (Amber Shuhart, Kourtney Newton, Dattoli, Wade). Land O'Lakes: Chris Clarke (400); Alison Foster (discus, shot put); Scott Habershaw (1,600, 3,200); Christina Hanson (400); Godfrey Pestana (110 high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles); Dani Shimer (800); Scott Wall (discus); boys 4x400 relay (Brian Clarke, Tommy Hoskins, Chuen Ng, C. Clarke); boys 4x800 relay (Brian Gibbs, Ryan Hudson, Mike Renteria, Ng); girls 4x100 relay (Krisandra Jonston, Brittany Miles, Casey Poyssick, Emily Sarginger); girls 4x800 relay (Debra Mann, Anne Tschripke, Natalie Wardell, Jessica Worthington, Hanson). Ridgewood: Joe Anders (high jump, triple jump); Shawn Bean (long jump, triple jump); Kevin Brantley (high jump); Michelle Cotharin (400, high jump); Candace Cornhist (400); Nancy Edwards (high jump, long jump, triple jump, 300 intermediate hurdles); Virginia Elswick (shot put, triple jump); Jen Hayes (100 high hurdles); Dawn Gryce (300 intermediate hurdles); Lizzy Leigh (800, 1,600); Pat Lynch (shot put); Shawna Luikart (high jump, triple jump); Jessica McNichols (800); Jessica Penokie (100 high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles, pole vault); Sarah Penokie (3,200); Crystal Phillips (discus); Tiffany Powell (100, 200); Margarita Salas (200, long jump); Lizzie Sheridan (1,600, 3,200); Chris Vergnaud (110 high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles); Jim Vitale (800, 1,600, 3,200); boys 4x400 relay (Steve Barber, John Wade, Brantley, Vergnaud); girls 4x100 relay (Hayes, Penokie, Powell, Salas); girls 4x400 relay (Cotharin, Cornhist, Hayes, Leigh); girls 4x800 relay (Tiffany Vega, Michelle Cotharin, Jessica McNichols, Sheridan). Zephyrhills: Tanya Bruton (discus); Jake Ashmore (800); Drew Barthle (pole vault); Tiffany Tucker (100, 200, long jump).

Class 4A, Region 2 Track meet

WHO: The top four place-winners in districts 5-8

WHERE: Blum Stadium, Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer High

SCHEDULE: Today -- Field events and the 4x800 relay start at 1 p.m. Running preliminaries are at 4 and running finals are at 7. Trophy presentation is at 10.

ADMISSION: $5

DIRECTIONS: From Interstate 95, head south to the Palm Beach Gardens exit. Get off at PGA Boulevard, turn right onto Military Trail. The school is 21/2 miles on the left. From the Florida Turnpike, exit off PGA Boulevard and take a left onto Military Trail. The school is 21/2 miles on the left. The address is 13601 North Military Trail. For information about the meet, call Palm Beach Lakes High at (561) 640-5000.

AT STAKE: The top four finishers in each event advance to the Class 4A Florida Finals on May 12 at Coral Springs High's Jim Caldwell Field. Ribbons will be awarded to the top six finishers. Team championship and runner-up trophies will also be awarded.

OUTLOOK: Stuck in the highest class, River Ridge's talent will be tested against the state's best. Sprinter John Gilmore is looking to return to state in the 100 meters while senior Jessica Verga is aiming for one last trip to state in a new event, the 400. Undefeated Melissa Tuccio is still looking for competition in the 3,200 and the relay teams could surprise.

LOCAL QUALIFIERS: River Ridge: Mike Brock (triple jump, pole vault); Danielle Coyle (1,600, 3,200); Richard Eagly (400); Adam Eberle (discus, shot put); John Gilmore (100, 200, long jump); Stephen Jacobsen (800); Emily Ollivier (shot put); Melissa Tuccio (3,200); Jessica Verga (200, 400); 4x100 boys relay (John Lambert, Andrew Masella, Eagly, Gilmore); 4x800 boys relay (Bryan Gibson, Brett Newland, Bill Sizemore, Jacobsen); 4x800 girls relay (Samantha Jacobsen, Lisa Karcinski, Christine MacAvoy, Coyle).

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