Pat Vereb has seen a lot of things over the course of a 20-year coaching career that covers both the high school and club soccer ranks.
This, however, was not one of them.
As Vereb arrived for a private instructional session some seven years ago, he remembers seeing Veronica Latsko, who would turn out to be one of the WPIAL’s most dominant girls soccer players under Vereb at Peters Township, reading a book at midfield.
And not something she was going to finish before practice.
“She’s the type of kid that while she had an extra 10 minutes, she started reading some War-and-Peace-type book,” Vereb said. “I asked her, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
Just reading Harry Potter, one of Latsko’s – and her teammates’ – obsessions.
Despite scoring 107 career goals and entrenching herself in the conversation of the best girls soccer player to come out of Western Pennsylvania, Latsko is as much of a sucker for a good book and a good laugh as she is an open patch of grass and a good pass.
Though the Observer-Reporter’s Athlete of the Year might look like a maniac on the field, charging, dodging and darting her way through traffic, she’s amiable, intelligent and funny off it – often the source of many team laughs.
“I don’t really think about a style of play,” Latsko said, dismissing a question about her relentless nature. “I play for fun. Well, I play to win, and I play for fun. If you’re not having fun playing a sport you’re supposed to be loving, it’s not the right sport for you.”
Though Latsko’s high school soccer career was recently cut short, the result of a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in her right knee, there’s no doubt soccer has been the right sport for Latsko, a University of Virginia recruit.
Her absurd goal totals – 25, 45 and 36 the past three years – helped Peters Township to an 67-6-1 record, two WPIAL Class AAA championships and three PIAA titles.
She’s a two-time Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Soccer Player of the Year and also is a member of the Region I team for the Olympic Development Program, one of the biggest accomplishments for a soccer player her age.
Vereb, who has been a high school head coach since 1994, recognized Latsko’s abilities long ago while conducting club soccer tryouts.
“Usually when you have 10-year-old girls trying out for club, you call them or send a letter within 48 hours to offer them a spot,” Vereb said. “She was that kid where you’re like, ‘I need to find your parents now.’ You can’t let her out the door to possibly go play for another club.
“You could see it when she was 9 years old.”
What, exactly did Vereb see?
How about a player who goes 100 mph for the entire game, despite getting kicked, kneed and elbowed.
A player who’s not only an elite finisher but one who can distribute, too, as evidenced by 31 assists in three years.
“There’s always the argument of whether she was the best player to ever play in the WPIAL,” Vereb said. “I like to answer that this way: She’s definitely the most impactful. There has never been a player who has changed the game as much by herself.”
Which she did this year in the WPIAL Class AAA championship game, heading home a Rachel Troscinski cross with 8 seconds left in the second overtime to down Seneca Valley.
Yet with all of her success, Latsko doesn’t act anything like the star she is.
She’s humble. She embraces the high school game, its quirks and team-bonding atmosphere. And she’s helped Peters Township create quite the dynasty when it comes to girls soccer.
“It’s mostly because of the girls,” said Latsko, who graduated with a 4.5 grade-point average and plans to major in Philosophy, Politics and Law at U-Va. “We see each other every single day, and you want to win for each other.
“Every time I see a senior from the past three years, it’s a whole new story that comes up. I just love the thrill of being involved … and winning.”
The Latsko file
• Teams won two WPIAL Class AAA titles and finished 67-6-1.
• Scored 107 goals, including 36 this past season.
• Contributed 31 assists over the past three years.
• Member of Region I team for the Olympic Development Program.
• Two-time Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Soccer Player of the Year.
• Helped Indians to three consecutive PIAA Class AAA titles.