Veronica Latsko already has been on an African safari.
Though just a Peters Township High School junior, Latsko also has been on trips to Russia, Brazil, London, Paris and Mexico.
But it's right here in Western Pennsylvania that this well-traveled teenager has established soccer roots that already have embedded her deep into the grounds of the most talented high school players from this district.
She has earned numerous accolades:
• A recruit for one of the top women's college soccer programs in the country.
• Post-Gazette WPIAL player of the year and Pennsylvania player of the year as a sophomore.
• A member of the prestigious Region I team of the Olympic Development Program.
• A 100-goal scorer in high school.
• Member of a two-time PIAA champion.
Latsko is all that and more. She is a 5-foot-9 forward, a well-spoken girl who is called one of the biggest pranksters on the Peters Township team. But she is also a terrific student with a 4.5 grade point average who would like to be a lawyer someday.
But there is no need for closing arguments on Latsko's talent. She already has convinced the jury.
"She certainly belongs in the conversation of one of the best players to ever come out of this area," said Peters Township coach Pat Vereb. "In my 20 years coaching, I think she may be the most influential player around here, as far as having an impact on the game."
Randi Rohm is a former All-Big East Conference player at Notre Dame who coaches Latsko on the Century United club team in Canonsburg.
"I played on some high-level national teams growing up, and Veronica is special," Rohm said. "Players like her don't come along often, especially in Western Pennsylvania. She is extremely special."
Of course, Vereb and Rohm might be a little biased, but others also heap praise on Latsko.
"We've played against her in the playoffs, and I've seen her play probably six times," said Hampton's Frank Christy, who has been coaching in the WPIAL for more than three decades. "She's the real deal, I think. I've felt that way since I saw her play as a freshman.
"It's kind of scary because it seems like she's been playing so long at Peters Township that she should be out of there by now. But she keeps coming back to haunt everyone."
Latsko seems a little flabbergasted at the suggestion that she is one of the best players in WPIAL soccer in years.
"I guess that's an honor, but I just think there are so many amazing players who don't get noticed because they play positions where they don't get a chance to score a lot of goals," she said. "There are amazing defenders out there. I think there are some amazing players on my team who barely get recognition."
What might tell you the most about Latsko's ability is that the University of Virginia offered her a scholarship this summer, before she played a game as a high school junior. Virginia is an upper-echelon program, ranked No. 6 in the country this season. The Cavaliers have made it to at least the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament seven consecutive years.
What separates Latsko from most other players is her goal-scoring ability and her penchant for attacking on offense. Latsko has 28 goals this season and 106 for her career.
"With our club team, we go to all of the top college showcases with the best players," Rohm said. "Even at those showcases, I have yet to see a player as good as her -- or [one who could] stop her. At these college showcases, she still gets double-teamed and still can't be stopped."
Added Vereb: "Her motor is just so relentless in her effort to win and score goals. She just absolutely never stops competing."
The "motor" was humming the first time Latsko stepped onto a pitch. Veronica is one of John and Lauren Latsko's four children, and John Latsko is a former soccer player at Bethel Park and Pitt-Johnstown.
When Veronica was 9, dad took her to a soccer practice of a team of 11- and 12-year olds that was coached by Brad Carpenter, a friend of his.
"Veronica ended up going on the field during practice and, after a little bit, she was doing tricks with the ball," John Latsko said. "I didn't even know she knew how to kick a ball. My friend turned to me and said, 'I want her on the team.' So she started playing at 9 with 11- and 12-year olds."
When Veronica Latsko was 10, she tried out for a club team coached by Vereb. She made quite the first impression.
"Normally, when you have club team tryouts, you call the parents 48 hours later and offer their daughter a spot in the program," Vereb said. "But after the tryout, I grabbed her before she even left the facility and said, 'You need to find your parents right now.'
"She just had something I had never seen before as far as scoring goals at will. I think those types of players are just born. They just want to score, whether it's a soccer player, basketball player or whatever."
South Fayette coach Wayne Capra has been coaching in the WPIAL for 23 years. Although he's not ready to put Latsko in the same category as former Pine-Richland standout Meghan Klingenberg (an alternate on the U.S. Olympic team this year), Capra believes Latsko is a rare player, kind of like a Kobe Bryant of soccer.
"When you get people who are scorers, they're selfish," Capra said. "I don't mean that in a derogatory way, either. But players like Latsko are like, 'Gimme the ball.' They don't want it on someone else's foot. She's that way."
But Vereb said Latsko has a special way about her that helps make her popular with both teammates and classmates.
"She's very funny," Vereb said. "She has everybody in stitches all the time."
Have a conversation with Latsko, and there will be plenty of laughter. She relishes the role of team jokester.
"The main goal of soccer is to have fun," she said. "It's the reason everyone is supposed to play sports. I mean, winning is fun. But, if you're playing a sport you don't love and you're not having fun, then you're not playing the right sport."
As for Latsko's travels around the world, soccer has taken her to Russia and Brazil as part of the ODP teams. She has been with family members on trips to Africa, London, Paris and Mexico.
Foremost on Latsko's mind right now, though, is making a return trip to Hershey in November for the PIAA championships. No WPIAL team has won three PIAA titles in a row.
Of course, there is also a WPIAL championship to chase first.
"My ultimate goal is to just kind of have fun with soccer still," Latsko said. "I want to be able to have the best time with the people I play with and to just reach my full potential. I don't know where it's going to lead."hssoccer
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published October 12, 2012 4:00 AM