By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Watch forward Veronica Latsko on the soccer field, where her goal-scoring prowess and athleticism stand out, and it’s easy to envision her playing professionally after her career at the University of Virginia ends.
If that happens, Latsko says, she’ll happily continue playing the sport she loves. But this third-year student from the Pittsburgh suburb of Venetia, Pa., views the future with a maturity not evident in everyone her age.
“Soccer is definitely a main priority in my life, but I know my body will give out sooner than my mind,” Latsko said. “I’ll eventually have to rely on the one more than the other.”
And so Latsko attacks her studies with the same determination she brings to the field.
“In one word, she’s relentless,” UVA head coach Steve Swanson said. “In everything she does, that’s the way she is. She just has a great work ethic, and she keeps coming at you.
“I have to sometimes hold her back a little bit, but that’s what every coach would love to have. I think she’s a great role model for others.”
Latsko carries a double major — public policy and foreign affairs — in UVA’s prestigious Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Her postgraduate plans include law school.
After that? Latsko isn’t sure. She might practice law, or she might seek work with the State Department or a non-governmental organization.
“I want to be the most knowledgeable in my field, whatever I’m doing,” Latsko said, “so I think law school is a great route for that, to really ingrain the concepts that I need to learn.
“I really want to help people. I would love to work on an international level, in the government or for a non-governmental organization.”
She would not be the first member of her family to do so. She has an aunt, Linda Latsko Lockhart, who founded the Global Give Back Circle, an NGO that connects mentors with at-risk girls in such countries as Kenya, China, South Africa and India. Latsko has traveled extensively overseas with her aunt.
“She’s a very talented individual that I’ve always looked up to,” Latsko said.
Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, her family’s home for many generations, Latsko started playing soccer as a girl. Her father, John, had played the sport at Pitt-Johnstown, and the second of his three daughters soon established herself as a force on the pitch.
Swanson first saw Latsko play during the summer before her sophomore year at Peters Township High School. He was struck by her “heart and engine and drive and motivation,” Swanson said. “For me she checked almost every single box in what we looked for in players in terms of intangibles.”
Latsko twice was named Gatorade player of the year in Pennsylvania, and she might have won the award a third time had she not missed her senior season at Peters Township while recovering from a torn ACL.
By then, she had committed to UVA, where her teammates in 2014 and ’15 included Brittany Ratcliffe. They’d first met in the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, playing for a Region I team that traveled to Russia. Also on the team was Morgan Stearns, now in her fourth year as Virginia’s starting goalkeeper.
When Latsko took her official visit to UVA, she recalled, “Morgan wasn’t here yet, but Britt was here, and she just made me feel so welcome.”
As a Virginia freshman, Latsko played in all 26 games and contributed three goals and two assists for a team that advanced to the NCAA title game. As a sophomore, when the Wahoos reached the NCAA quarterfinals, she was their fourth-leading scorer, her 19 points coming on seven goals and five assists.
Seniors on that team included Ratcliffe and Makenzy Doniak, who holds the school record for career goals (64). Latsko has stepped forward to help fill the void left by Doniak’s departure.
“She had a tremendous spring for us,” Swanson said. “It was a culmination of a year-and-a-half of hard work.
“When she came to Virginia, I think she was more of an athlete than a soccer player overall. I think when you watched V play the first couple years [at UVA], what you noticed was that she’s a tremendous athlete: great pace, can run all day, got a real big heart, big engine. But I think she’s worked very hard on her technical ability, and I think we saw that in the spring, how her touch has gotten better. She can handle pressure better, she gets her head up more, she can make good decisions on the field, and I think that’s translated [this season].
“When you see her now, you still see the athletic ability, but you also see a little more soccer savvy, a little more soccer sophistication. I think that’s full credit to her for how hard she’s worked.”
In training sessions during the spring and summer, Latsko said, “I focused mostly on my overall technical game, just one-touch passing, layoffs, being able to hold on to the ball, so it became more second nature and I didn’t have to think about it and I could start thinking about in-the-game decisions.”
Through eight games, the 5-8 Latsko leads fifth-ranked Virginia in scoring with 15 points, on six goals and three assists. Senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer is second with nine points (four goals, one assist).
Until last weekend, the `Hoos were unbeaten and unscored on. So when they scored two goals in the first nine minutes Sunday against Georgetown in Washington, D.C. — the first on a Latsko header — a triumphant trip back to Charlottesville seemed likely for the visitors.
The Hoyas, however, rallied for a stunning 3-2 victory, a result Latsko believes will sharpen the Cavaliers’ focus as they head into ACC play.
At 7 p.m. Friday, as part of the Commonwealth Clash, Virginia (7-1) hosts No. 17 Virginia Tech (8-1) at Klöckner Stadium.
“There was definitely an air of disappointment [on the bus ride home],” Latsko said. “We all knew that we could have beaten Georgetown. I think we kind of needed something to snap us back into reality. We knew that we weren’t going to go throughout the entire season without being scored on or never losing a game. As much as I would have loved to continue our winning record, maybe a loss was better early on, so that we can just understand what it’s like to lose and never want to have this feeling again, especially with ACCs coming up.”
Latsko, who graduated from high school with a 4.7 GPA, entered the Batten School this academic year. The program has helped her broaden her UVA experience.
“It’s like its own little world,” she said. “We have our athlete world and we have our Batten world, and it’s awesome. I love it.”
That sums up her feeling about the University, too.
“It’s everything I’ve always wanted,” Latsko said. “I really admire the high caliber of academics and the high caliber of soccer.”
That Latsko pursues both so enthusiastically at UVA does not surprise her coach.
“I think her attitude is, `I’ve got one life here and I’m going to maximize it and I’m going to challenge myself as much as I can,’ ” Swanson said. “She’s going after life full-bore.”