2013 Girls Soccer Preview: All-American on the mend

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After the initial shock and pain of the injury, the confirmation from doctors and the realization that she'd be sitting out for an extended period of time, Veronica Latsko still had one more phone call to make.

Already committed to play college soccer at Division I power Virginia, Latsko was about to call her future coach to tell him the bad news: her ACL was torn.

Phoning over to England, where her coach was for a tournament, Latsko feared for the worst. What if he was mad? Or worse, what if he revoked the scholarship?

But when he answered the phone, Latsko was surprised: he already knew. He wasn't mad, and she definitely still had her scholarship.

"I was so scared. It's scary just calling a college coach and saying you had a major injury and have to be out for a year," Latsko said. "But [Virginia coach] Steve Swanson is one of the nicest, most supportive coaches I have ever known. He was very supportive through the entire thing. He said I still have my spot and everything's fine."

That sigh of relief has made this summer easier for the Peters Township All-American, who is one of the most decorated girls soccer players in WPIAL history. Her 107 goals have led Peters Township to three consecutive PIAA titles. She is a two-time Post-Gazette Player of the Year and a two-time Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year, but now describes her current exercise limit as "walking briskly."

She puts on socks and cleats and walks around the field as her teammates practice, nearly three months removed from surgery. Her coach, Pat Vereb, doesn't make her come to practice but she shows up at every one, all on her own.

"Because I love this team. They're a family," Latsko said. "Every year it's a new batch of kids that you just click with, instantly. It's awesome."

Latsko had been playing center striker in the team's 4-3-3 lineup. Vereb still hasn't decided what formation suits his team best in Latsko's absence, but has adopted a philosophy of another Pittsburgh coach: "It's just next man up," Vereb said, "like Mike Tomlin says."

Players who will need to step up in Latsko's absence are senior Emily Franty and junior Maddie Santo. They would obviously like to have their all-star on the field, but they remain confident.

"Her presence of being on the field is definitely missing," Franty said, "but other girls just have to step up. As a senior, I definitely feel like it's a role I can take on as well as some of the juniors.

"Other players are really good players who are willing to step up but were just stuck behind seniors last year. I know they will step up. To fill that gap everyone will contribute from different positions."

Even as the star, Latsko echoes that sentiment.

"You don't need one player," she said. "One player doesn't win the game. It doesn't hurt but there are plenty of instances a team's best player has been out -- Mia Hamm, she left and everyone thought U.S. women's soccer was going to deteriorate.

"Someone always steps up."

There's another U.S. player Latsko draws comparisons to: Ali Krieger, a defender who hurt her knee before the London Olympics but remained a good teammate throughout and returned to the pitch in February.

Latsko hopes to make a successful return as well. She will be tested by physical therapists Sept. 3 and returns to the doctor Sept. 5. She hopes to get good news, which could mean being allowed to jog again. She remains optimistic that she could return for Peters Township this season, citing mid- to late-October as a target return date, though it could be November or later. She hopes to play in the postseason.

Not a day goes by where she doesn't think about the injury, but she isn't letting it get the best of her.

"It's always a constant thought," Latsko said. "But everyone's been really supportive through it. I still feel completely part of the team."

And as for winning a fourth consecutive state title?

"I have complete faith in what this team can do in getting us a four-peat," Latkso said. "If that were to happen, I wouldn't be surprised. We have a great group of girls and amazing coaches on this team. We have who can lead so well on the field who were just hidden behind previous players."


Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica. First Published August 30, 2013 4:00 AM


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