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May 18, 2012

Landmark Success

By: Jimmy Robertson

Jessica Nonn’s brought a successful high school career to Tech and played a large role in helping turn around the Hokies’ lacrosse fortunes


She isn’t that intimidating, standing only 5-foot-7. But she was definitely one of the biggest fish in the history of Catonsville [Md.] High School’s pond. So much so, that she was named the Catonsville Times Female Athlete of the Year after both her junior and senior years.

She was a force on the pitch, the court and the field, earning 12 varsity letters. She guided both her soccer and lacrosse teams to regional championship titles before losing in the state tournament in her final season with both, and her basketball team won the Baltimore County crown before ending that season in the regional final.

To her own admission, Jessica Nonn, who grew up around sports, was the “sports queen” of her high school, and she was always on the go.

“When I was in high school, my parents would drive me from basketball game to lacrosse game to soccer game, and then I would wake up the next morning and do it all over again,” she said. “So I was just constantly moving, constantly being a part of all those teams. And I think that’s why I’ve been so successful because I wasn’t just a lacrosse player. Maybe that’s why I became such a dynamic player because I have those skills from the other sports that helped me become what I am today.

“My parents would literally take me from game to game to game and it took up so much of my time, but it was obviously so worth it. I did have a good career in lacrosse, and I did make an impact, and I attribute it to my parents running me around and giving me the experiences to get me to where I am.”

The past four years, she’s done her running at Thompson Field, the home of the Hokies’ lacrosse team, and the homes of other ACC schools. After graduating from Catonsville High, which resides on Baltimore’s western outskirts, she brought her big fish status to Blacksburg and the Virginia Tech lacrosse field and never left it. She started every single game in her career for the Hokies and finished as one of the all-time best.

The senior midfielder ended her career second all-time at the school in goals scored (139), caused turnovers (103) and ground balls (160), and third in points (168) and draw controls (161). She also became just the fourth Hokie to earn first-team All-ACC honors.

However, Tech fans will forever remember Nonn as the hero of the 2012 Hokies’ lacrosse victory over then-No. 7 Virginia. She scored the last three goals of the game for the Hokies, including the game winner in overtime. The victory marked Tech’s first ever win over the Cavaliers and the first win over a top 10 program in its history.

“The game was fun, but I honestly don’t even feel like I did it,” Nonn said. “Everyone’s like, ‘You scored four goals and had an assist,’ and I don’t even feel like that because it was such a team effort overall. I don’t think that it was narrowed down to just my performance.

“Everyone keeps saying that I had such a good game, but overall, the team had such a good game. We minimized on the turnovers, and we did exactly what the game plan was, and everything just fell into place.

“I don’t want to take all the pride away from the team because I just got lucky at the end. I just scored the last goal. It was great, it really was. It was fun. I was crying.”

Always with a team-first mentality, Nonn would probably be the first to admit that she would rather Tech fans never remember her goal because of the far loftier accomplishments by the team.

She understands where Virginia Tech lacrosse came from, and where it stands amongst other ACC schools. She also sees where it’s going.

“There have been so many highs and so many lows with this team. It really has been like a roller coaster ride the last four years,” Nonn said. “Overall, Virginia Tech lacrosse, since we’ve been here, has only gone up hill. Yes, it has been a bumpy road, but we’ve gone from a team that, when I came in, was 4-14 to a winning record the past two years, and that really says something about the program itself and how we’ve grown as a team.

“Our program, it is relatively new in the ACC compared to the other teams. ACC women’s lacrosse is the most competitive conference by far. No doubt about it. So it’s hard to play teams like Maryland, Duke and North Carolina because they are such powerhouses, and they’ve been strong programs for a long time. But I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s been so much fun because we do get to play at the highest level.

“It really has been fun, and we’ve really changed as a program. I’m just thrilled that I was somebody that has helped it, and I can only see it going further. And I just hope that next year, they will have another winning record, and they will continue to win ACC games. And there will be a year that we will get an NCAA bid, and I will be really excited when that happens because I know that I was a part of that beginning.”

Her perspective on lacrosse is unique because originally she liked soccer more. The three-sport athlete was really interested in playing soccer in college, but was only getting interest from Division III schools. At the same time, she was getting letters from schools for lacrosse as well.

Over the summer of her junior year was when the lacrosse interest reached its height, and Nonn decided she would pursue that path.

“I was getting calls from schools like Towson, Hopkins, Ohio State,” she said. “I went to Maryland’s junior day, and Ohio University, when they had a program, and then Tech, of course. So I really narrowed it down to Ohio State and Tech because they were both in my criteria – big school, big football – I just thought they were both so similar, so that’s who it came down to.”

Interestingly, one of Nonn’s best friends from the Catonsville, Md., area – Morgan Widlake, who attended the private school Seton Keough – was also in the midst of selecting her college as well.

“That’s the funny thing. She was doing her thing and I was doing my thing, and we never really talked to each other about our decisions,” Nonn said. “I actually committed first, and I told her and she told me that she was actually going down to Virginia Tech to talk to the coach the next week, but I didn’t think it was anything along the lines of committing.

“But then she calls me and she’s like ‘I just committed to Tech’ and I was like ‘Oh my God, this is awesome!’ This is what I wanted, to have someone that I know – because going to college without knowing anybody, especially to a school five hours away, is tough. So when she called me a week later and told me she committed, I was even more excited that I had committed to Tech.”

Although she didn’t lose a step from the high school field to the college field, Nonn did struggle early in her academic pursuits. But that didn’t last long, as she quickly turned things around and was honored by the Scholar-Baller program for her effort. In conjunction with the National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS), Nonn was one of 20 student-athletes to receive the Academic Momentum Award in 2011.

“It was mainly because, my freshman year, I was having trouble, I guess just the transition academic-wise from high school to college,” she said. “It was a big step for me, so I wasn’t used to all the pressure.

“I remember my first exam I took and it was a bio exam and I got like a 40. I called mom, and I was like, ‘I don’t get 40s, what is this?’ It was awful. So I messed up a little my freshman year. I didn’t get the best GPA. It wasn’t too awful, but it wasn’t what I expected of myself.

“So my sophomore year, as I got used to the whole college academic feel, I did so much better. I think I got straight A’s the second semester my sophomore year, so I went from here to here (showing a dramatic difference in her two hand positions) on the academic scale.”

Nonn, who graduated with a degree in psychology and may pursue a career in physical therapy, credits most of what she’s done and where she’s gotten to her chauffers’ as a youth and adolescent – parents Mike and Katherine. But mainly, she credits her father, who introduced the fry to sports and originally got her into soccer at the age of 5.

“My parents are my No. 1 fans, and they have been so supportive of me,” she said. “But everything that I do, everything that I am and everything that I’ve accomplished is because of my dad. When I get all these awards, I just immediately think about my dad because I just know that he is so proud of me. I’ve just done so much and it’s all because of him.

“I always get emotional when I talk about him because he’s like the one person that means so much to me. I wouldn’t have played Division I lacrosse and made such an impact at Virginia Tech if it wasn’t for how he pushed me when I was younger as an athlete.”