Jesse O'Connell was the third-tallest boy in his class - 6 feet 6 - at a basketball-starved Westminster High, and still he never yielded to the obvious pressures to play the game.
The highly decorated Georgetown University junior middle-distance runner said yesterday: "I believed track was the sport of my future, and I wanted to concentrate all my efforts on it."
And, oh, how it has paid off.
O'Connell is shooting for the Olympic Trials in the 800-meter event, where he is ranked No. 10 on the NCAA Top Performance List with an indoor time of 1 minute, 49.70 seconds.
Last spring, he was No. 5 on the NCAA Division I outdoor 800-meter charts with a personal-best 1:47.50. At the time, he was the No. 2 American in the 800 meters.
"The Olympics are always in your mind but it's a long road to travel, and just getting to the trials is a major accomplishment," said O'Connell, who was The Sun's 2000 Indoor and Outdoor Performer of the Year.
His journey to becoming one of the elite runners in the nation has been highlighted by such accomplishments as anchoring Georgetown's winning 3,200-meter relay team (7:20.91) at the Penn Relays last spring.
"There were about 40,000 people watching that race," he said. "Now that was big-time."
Winning the 2001 USA Track and Field Junior National 800-meter championship (1:50.23) as a freshman was another top achievement.
"I've had some good moments here and ran some exciting races already this season," O'Connell said. "I know it's early and my times should keep improving."
The clocking of 1:49.70 this season in the 800 meters was a provisional NCAA qualifying time and came in a race against the University of South Carolina's NCAA 800-meter champion, Otukile Lekote, who also finished in 1:49.70.
Lekote was awarded first place over O'Connell on the basis of photos.
"That was a great race," said O'Connell of the Jan. 18 showdown in the Kroger Invitational in Blacksburg, Va. "Otukile probably didn't run his best because it was early."
Kerpelman is anchor
Junior swimmer Adam Kerpelman (St. Paul's) continues to play a major role in ninth-ranked University of Virginia's rise to national prominence.
Kerpelman, an eight-time All-American, has anchored the Cavaliers' winning 200-yard medley relay team the past two weekends in impressive victories over No. 19 Pittsburgh (140-98) and Clemson (134-103).
In the victory over Clemson, Kerpelman also took second place in the 50-yard freestyle.
Two other Baltimore-area standouts, seniors Mike Wheeler (McDonogh) and Brian Best (Wilde Lake), have contributed to Virginia's 7-1 start (5-0 in the ACC) this season.
Wheeler took third place against Clemson in the 1,000-yard freestyle event the week after he turned in a third-place finish in the 200-yard backstroke in a 198-102 romp over No. 20 North Carolina.
Best took fourth place in the 100-yard butterfly in the win over the Tar Heels.
Schnell has big day
Cornell freshman Cathy Schnell (Broadneck) took first place on the uneven bars and had two other top three finishes last weekend, as the Big Red rolled up a season-high score of 187.125 in a gymnastics victory over Cortland State and Wilson College.
Schnell had a 9.5 on the uneven bars, a 9.275 for second place on the vault and a 9.6 for third on the floor exercise.
Cornell captured the top five slots on the uneven bars and had individual winners in all four events and all-around.
Winthrop University freshman Carrie Selmer (Glenelg) turned in her top 3,000-meter indoor time this season (10:34.55) last Saturday in the East Tennessee State Invitational. ... Junior Bonnie Sowa (Severna Park) had her best indoor mile time of 6:16 this season for Winthrop in the Appalachian State Invitational two weeks ago.
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