By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Let’s go to the video, which was shot in October and can be found onVirginiaSports.com. On one side of the screen we see UVa graduate student Catherine White, one of the nation’s top distance runners. She’s fielding questions posed not by a reporter but by teammate Jordan Lavender, who’s standing next to White.
Thus began Lavender’s career in the media.
“It was really nerve-wracking for me,” she recalled this week. “I remember the day before I was rehearsing in front of the mirror, and I was really nervous, because I didn’t want to mess up, and I didn’t want to have to do 10 different takes. But now I make up the questions, I know what I want to ask, I usually know the direction they’re going to go. I feel really comfortable with it now.”
Lavender learned last week that she’s been accepted into the Media Studies major at UVa, where she’s nearing the end of her second year. Back in the fall, before she applied for the program, Lavender saw an opportunity.
She decided to interview, on camera, some of her fellow members of the track and field team.
“I wanted to major in Media Studies, and I knew I had to apply, so I wanted to get some experience under my belt,” Lavender said. “I just wanted to make sure this is what I really wanted to do, and I knew the track program needed some publicity. So I figured, why not kill two birds with one stone and help my team out?”
White was the first teammate to do a video Q&A with Lavender. Since then Lavender, a sprinter who was born and raised in Nashville, Tenn., has interviewed Zach Gates, Connor Rog, Mark Amirault, Pearl Bickersteth, Dallas Rose, Payton Hazzard, Vicky Fouhy, Ryan Satchell, Barbara Strehler, Tommy DeVita and, most recently, Abbey Karin.
“I watch every single one of them,” said Bryan Fetzer, UVa’s director of track & field/cross country.
“She’s gotten a lot better from the first to the last. She enjoys it, and the guys and girls on the team enjoy it. They get to be interviewed by one of their own. They give her a hard time about it, too.”
Lavender takes the ribbing in stride. She’s earned the respect of her teammates and coaches on and off the track, where she’s become one of the ACC’s best sprinters.
“She’s awesome to coach,” Fetzer said. “Her personality is so engaging, and it’s so big, you can’t help smile when you’re around her. And she’s a great leader from the standpoint that she does a lot by her actions, as opposed to just her words.”
The ACC outdoor championships begin Thursday in Raleigh, N.C., and Lavender will compete in the 200 meters, the 400 and the 4×400 relay. A year ago, the ACC meet was held at UVa’s Lannigan Field, and Lavender placed third in the 400.
“Last year was a learning year for her,” Fetzer said, “learning how to run tactically, and learning how to believe in herself. Making the adjustment from high school to college is tough in any sport.”
In February, at the ACC indoor meet, Lavender ran the 400 in 53.14 seconds, smashing the UVa record of 54.07 set by Lisa Garrett in 1981. Lavender finished second to Clemson’s Marlena Wesh, an Olympian in 2012.
“I was surprised with how fast I ran and how good it felt when I was finished,” Lavender said of her indoor season. “I think was a huge indication of maybe what’s to come this week and further on down the road.”
Fetzer agreed. “We haven’t even come close to seeing how fast she will run,” he said.
Lavender, whose parents are University of Georgia alumni, was in preschool when she first realized she was fast.
“I was just beating all the boys on the playground, and it just carried on,” she said. “So I knew track was where I was supposed to be.”
At the University School of Nashville, Lavender won 10 state championships, in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump. She considered Vanderbilt but wanted to get away from home. She found everything she was looking for at UVa, whose head coach then was Jason Vigilante.
“The academics is what really drew me in, because I know when I graduate and I have that Virginia emblem on the top of my diploma, that’s gonna take me a long way,” Lavender said. “But also with track, I wanted to be part of building a program.”
She had been at Virginia only a few months when Vigilante unexpectedly resigned in November 2011. About a month later, Fetzer left Harvard, where he was the top assistant coach, to take over the program at UVa.
“It wasn’t the easiest thing for her and a lot of them,” Fetzer said of the coaching change, “but she’s made the adjustment really well.”
Lavender said: “It was definitely weird in the beginning, but I kind of look at it as a blessing, just because I think that Coach Fetzer really knows what to do with me.”
Fetzer, who works with the Cavaliers’ sprinters, knew nothing about Lavender when he arrived in Charlottesville.
“I would say she was a good high school track and field athlete,” he said. “She wasn’t among the nation’s best. She was good, but she wasn’t what most would consider a blue-chipper or a five-star recruit. I think she’s developing into somebody who’s that. Her best is definitely yet to come.”
Fetzer is a former assistant at the University of California, where UVa competed early this month in a tri-meet with Cal and Michigan. In Berkeley, Fetzer introduced Lavender to one of his former Cal sprinters, Francesca Weems, who now works for Comcast SportsNet in San Francisco.
“She was really helpful,” Lavender said. “She gave me a lot of insight into the business and what to do and kind of a heads up that people are going to be questioning me, especially since I’m a woman and a minority, so to make sure I know my stuff going in.”
Lavender, an ACC all-academic selection, doesn’t know which professional path she’ll follow after she graduates, “but I want to do something with sports media,” she said. “I know that. I don’t know if I want to do broadcasting or if I want to go into journalism, but I know I don’t want to drop sports.”
On this afternoon she was wearing a T-shirt from UVa’s football game against Auburn in the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl. Lavender avidly follows Virginia’s other teams, including football and basketball, and she’s doing her best to raise interest in track and field at the University.
In 2012, the UVa women placed second — their best finish in 17 years — and the men were third at the ACC outdoor championships. The Cavaliers aren’t expected to contend for the team titles this weekend, but Fetzer and his staff have recruited well, and Lavender is optimistic about the program’s long-term prospects.
“It’s exciting to see where we’re going as a team,” she said.