Had it not been for a broken collarbone she sustained playing touch football this summer, we might have heard about Annapolis ninth-grader Kristen Nicolini a little sooner.
The Panther freshman has made quite a debut in high school varsity sports as a distance runner on the rejuvenated indoor track team. Going into this Wednesday's Anne Arundel County Championships, the 5-foot-1 Nicolini, 14, has posted thebest county times so far in the mile run (5:25.6) and the half-mile or 800 meters (2:26).
She had planned to go out for either girls soccer or cross country this fall, but the football injury kept her on the sidelines until the winter sports season.
"The night before we were to leave for afamily reunion in Missouri, I was playing touch football with my brother (Todd) and cousins, and I fell and broke my collarbone," said Nicolini, who loves to shoot hoops with her 13-year old brother and hisfriends.
"I fell trying to tag my brother."
She didn't catch her brother, but no one has caught her this year. Nicolini has won every race she has run this season, including impressive victories over Severna Park's highly touted senior Fran Mackney at Baltimore's 5th Regiment Armory on Jan. 15.
That was the day she set the county standards for this season.
After running the mile as a physical education requirement last year at Bates Junior High, Nicolini posted a very good time. Her gym teacher, Jim Griffith, an assistant hoops coachat Old Mill High, suggested she try running.
"Mr. Griffith suggested that I run track when I got to high school because of my time, and when I heard about indoor track at Annapolis, I decided to go out,"she said.
With her fall sports season nixed by injury, indoor track would not have been there for Nicolini had it not been for veterancoach Dennie DeWitt. The former Brooklyn Park coach, in his first year at Annapolis, brought indoor track back in the Cap City after a one-year absence.
DeWitt did not notice the quiet and unassuming Nicolini right away. The young lady, who has a strong desire to become amarine biologist and one day swim with a dolphin, has a precompetition demeanor unlike the fiery temperament she takes on.
When he started running the girls competitively, it didn't take long to notice the lanky girl, who blew by everybody. Her extraordinary kick and knack for turning it on when she smells the finish line caught DeWitt by surprise. After all, this is only a freshman.
"Kristen is so quiet, but once the gun goes off, she's pure competition, and I think her intense competitiveness comes from swimming," said DeWitt. "She is anoutstanding athlete like her sister Meghan, who is an outstanding gymnast.
"Their success and wonderful attitude come from the way they have been brought up by their parents."
Meghan is an Annapolis senior who is being recruited by a host of Division I schools because of her skills on the bars and beams.
Her father, Peter Nicolini, aformer JuCo baseball and basketball player from Long Island, is the principal at Crofton Meadows Elementary. His wife, Sandy, is a formerPittsburgh area cheerleader. In the late 1960s and early 1970s she was cheerleading adviser at Arundel High.
Obviously, it's a sports-oriented family, and parental support has played a major part in the development of these two promising athletes.
"And the dad says that the youngest might be the best athlete," said DeWitt, referring to 13-year-old Todd, a seventh-grader playing soccer, basketball and baseball.
To date, Meghan is the closest to fulfilling a high school goal. She is on the verge of winning a full scholarship to a major university despite never having played a varsity sport.
Iowa State, Nebraska, North Carolina State, the University of Chicago and local gymnastics power Towson State are all interested in 17-year-old Meghan.
Gymnastics is a year-round endeavor for Meghan, who started in the acrobatic sport at age 11 and spends 17 hours a week working out. She made a decision early on to skip the high school team and stick with the Docksiders Club team, and it has proven a wise decision.
"I started back in the fifth grade, and it wasn't offered in school, so I continued going on with the Docksiders because of all the advantages at the club level," said Meghan.
Her club coaches, Mark Weber and Linda Johnson, do not allow Level 9 or above gymnasts to compete at the high school level, according to her father.
"The high schools do not have United States Gymnastics Federation safety-qualified coaches as the Docksiders and other club teams do, and not the kind ofequipment the more advanced gymnasts should be using," said Peter Nicolini.
"So, Meghan stuck with the Docksiders and has a chance at a college scholarship."
Most teen-age gymnasts are recruited by videotape. Prospective student/athletes write introductory letters to schools they are interested in and follow it up with a videotape.