Centore making her mark in multiple sports

Heading into the 2015 spring season, many close to Jonathan Law athletics thought of Jessica Centore as a basketball player, who also ran track and field — and was pretty darn good.

After her record-setting season this spring, it’s clear Centore is more than just another solid member of veteran coach Linwood Schulte’s team.

Centore has attached the label State Open champion next to her name, just the second track and field athlete in the history of Jonathan Law — boy or girl — to earn the distinction. The first was Lauren Miller in 2002, also coached by Schulte.

Centore, a 17-year-old senior-to-be, captured the Open 400 meter title with a 57.38 effort, the only girl in JLHS history to break 60 seconds. A fierce competitor on the track and basketball court, she was even surprised by her time.

“I knew I could get below 60, but didn’t expect to run 57,” Centore acknowledged prior to heading to Pennsylvania for a weekend of action with her AAU basketball team.

As the season, in which Centore was hampered by an ankle injury suffered in an AAU basketball game, wore on, Schulte could see a possible title in her future.

“In the beginning of May I would have said ‘yes’ that I would be surprised to see her win the Open,” said Schulte, who just completed his 31st season leading the Law girls track and field program.

“But after watching her in the Southern Connecticut Conference and Class MM state meet, I was not surprised.”

And it’s surprising Schulte wasn’t sure what to expect, considering Centore spent time at some early season meets getting treatment on her ankle and watching her teammates.

When she did return, she did so with a vengeance, winning the 400 in both the SCC and state meets. Along the way she seemed to develop the knack for running as fast as she needed to for the win.

That ability to top the competition comes from Centore’s simple philosophy.

“I think my best is just as good as anyone else’s,” she said, without a hint of cockiness, but solid confidence.

Schulte concurred about Centore’s fierce competitive style and determination.

“Her willingness to work hard and not complain,” Schulte said are what separates Centore from the competition. “She always goes all out and never lags in practice.”

After Centore’s State Open victory, she has begun receiving correspondence for colleges, but at the moment her attention is back on basketball, where she was among the most improved players in the area last winter.

But, for those who thought of her as a basketball player, who also competes in track and field, that is not how Centore sees herself.

“I consider myself both a basketball player and track and field person,” Centore said. “I enjoy them both equally.”

She said the difference between the two sports — with basketball the consummate team sport and track and field an individual sport, where with enough solid individuals the team does well — is something she likes.

In basketball, Centore enjoys meshing as a unit and knowing if you make a mistake or have a bad game your teammates can pick you up, while in track and field it’s just you against the opposition.

She agrees that the team aspect of basketball sometimes has a drawback.

“I think sometimes I rely too much on my teammates,” she said. “Instead of taking the tough shot and trying something, I’ll pass to a teammate. Being more willing to rely on mine abilities in basketball is something I want to work on.”

The Law girls basketball team could be on the brink of an outstanding season with its big three, Erin Saley, Laura Dulin and Centore , returning from a 14-win season.

With the improvement she has made over the past year in basketball, Centore also has begun getting feelers from colleges for that sport.

At the moment, though, the 5-foot-7 shooting guard is just focusing on improving at both sports and not worrying about making a decision about what sport to play at the next level.

One area that won’t hold her back when it comes to making her decision is academics, as she takes either advanced placement or high honors classes. Centore plans to major in business or sports management.

As for next track season, Schulte is faced with a dilemma many coaches would love to have: Where to put Centore to maximize her ability and also score the most points for the team in dual meets?

And Centore’s effort at the heptathlon this spring didn’t make Schulte’s decision-making process any easier. Centore, who finished 10th, ran outstanding times in the both the 800 meter (2:32) and 200 meter (26.98), events she has seldom done.

“We’ll do what’s best for her and the team” next season, Schulte said. “We want to put her where we can maximize her abilities.”
Centore’s list personal bests in track and field is impressive: As a sophomore, she long jumped 17-feet-4 and cleared 5-feet in the high jump, but didn’t compete in either most of this spring because of her ankle injury.

On the track she has personal best times of 26.98 (200), 57.38 (400) and 2:32 (800).

And there is good chance Centore will be part of the 400-meter relay to replace the graduated Tiffany Coleman and, of course, a coach would like to have his best 400-meter runner as part of the 1,600-meter relay.

With a limit of four events per meet for each athlete, Schulte and Centore will be doing plenty of juggling come next spring.

When it comes to the 400, where Centore walked away with the gold medal, Schulte said with Centore’s work ethic she could run in the 56s or “maybe even 55.”

Stay tuned, there is plenty more to this story yet to be rewritten.