BY JIM FENTON
The Pembroke resident, who also played soccer for the Skyhawks, has qualified in the 800-meter race as the No. 12 seed in this week's meet in Texas.
EASTON – When he made the decision to attend Stonehill College in 2015, Stephen Vercollone committed to play soccer for the Skyhawks.
During his freshman year, however, the Pembroke resident wanted to add on to his athletic experience at Stonehill by trying out for the indoor and outdoor track & field teams.
"I ran track in high school and did pretty well my senior year, enough where I could walk on to the track team,″ said Vercollone. "I reached out to (track coach) Karen Boen and asked if I could I try out for the track team. She knew I already committed to soccer.
"Both her and (soccer coach Jim Reddish) were OK with the idea of me playing both sports and I appreciate that.″
His busy athletic career is just about complete now, and it turned out that running track was where Vercollone had more success during four years at Stonehill.
He appeared in 49 soccer games, starting nine, and had four goals and three assists as a utility player.
In track & field, Vercollone earned All-America honors by being part of Stonehill's distance medley relay team that finished fifth at the 2018 Indoor Championships.
And this week, Vercollone will close out his career by making his third appearance at the NCAA Division 2 Championships as the No. 12 seed in the 800-meter race.
Vercollone will compete in the 800-meter run at this weekend's NCAA II Championships (PHOTO BY Jim Stankiewicz)
The Pembroke High graduate will take part in the preliminary race Friday night in Kingsville, Texas, looking to qualify for the final on Saturday night.
"I really wasn't expecting (so much track success). Soccer had always been my passion and I still love it. But track and field is where I excelled.″
Vercollone received All-New England honors 12 times during the indoor and outdoor track seasons in addition to being an All-Northeast-10 Conference and All-East Region selection during his career.
He heads into the NCAAs as the Stonehill record holder in the 800, running 1:50.28 to finish second at the All-New England Championships on May 11 in Connecticut. That performance was the last chance to qualify for the nationals, and Vercollone came through with a race to remember.
"It was my last chance, so there was a little bit of pressure, but I knew I was in great shape and the weather was nice,″ said Vercollone. "I was in the fast section and I knew if I raced well it would bring me to a fast time to make the NCAAs.″
Vercollone, who has seven brothers and three sisters, is the 10th child in a family that is full of athletes. His older brother, Luke, played professional soccer after being a standout at Seton Hall.
At Stonehill, Vercollone was a center midfielder who was used in a variety of other positions to provide a spark to the soccer team.
The improvement that Vercollone showed in track as a senior at Pembroke High was the beginning of a positive trend that let him to a successful running career at Stonehill.
"I wasn't anything special,″ Vercollone said of his high school track days. "I was always playing soccer in the spring as I was running track. My focus and energy was split between the two sports and it wasn't until my senior year I ran fast enough to walk on.″
The development was apparent quickly once Vercollone started competing for Stonehill in the winter of 2015-16, and he just kept getting better all four years.
"He's improved immensely,″ said Boen. "The difference is he went from being a good athlete to being a great racer. Some kids are great athletes, but they don't know how to handle themselves once it gets dirty out there, especially at the 800. It's a dogfight.
"He kind of now trusts his training and athleticism enough that he's become a great racer.″
Vercollone, who finished 17th at the indoor nationals this past March, is hoping to finish his Stonehill athletic career in style at the NCAAs, looking to add a second All-America showing this week.
The final race will end a busy four-year run at Stonehill where he was part of athletic teams from August-May and excelled as a student.
"I definitely had to stay on top of things, be organized,″ said Vercollone. "I learned some great skills that helped me get through it. I'm really grateful for that.
"I want to shout-out both of my coaches. At a lot of other schools, they don't let athletes compete in multiple sports, but coming in, Jim and Karen really were OK with that and I appreciate them for that.″