RICHMOND, Va. – Jessica Pellechio hit nine 3-pointers in a win over UMKC on Nov. 20, but she might be surprised to learn that she’s not even the record-holder in her own locker room. Rams’ Coach Marlene Stollings once drained 10 treys in a game at Ohio University.
Pellechio needn’t fret, she might be the Rams’ best shooter in years. Pellechio, who is averaging 14.0 points per game, has already hit 19 three-pointers in five games and has attempted 56. VCU’s single-season records of 94 made threes and 226 attempts are officially on alert. Last year, Robyn Hobson led the Rams with 25 made threes the entire season.
Pellechio’s emergence is no accident. Stollings says she has to practically throw her out of the gym most days. In addition, the 5-foot-8 guard from Annandale, N.J. has managed to surround herself with some outstanding coaching along the way.
In recent years, the sweet shooting guard has received instruction from the leading scorers in both Ohio and New Jersey high school history, women who rank among the top 25 all-time nationally in girls basketball history.
Since the eighth grade, Pellechio has worked with shooting coach Kristen Somogyi. Somogyi is the leading scorer in New Jersey high school basketball history, girls or boys. She poured in 3,899 points at St. Peter’s High School in New Brunswick from 1989-92, a mark which ranks 10th nationally in girls high school basketball history, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations. She later played collegiately at Virginia and Rutgers and currently works as a teacher and AAU coach in the Garden State.
When Pellechio met Somogyi at a basketball camp five years ago, she says she wasn’t anything like the confident shooter she is today.
“I worked with her day-in and day-out,” Pellechio said. “My shot used to be so ugly.”
Somogyi says Pellechio suffered from problems similar to girls her age. She wasn’t particularly strong, so she held the ball low and pushed her shot from behind on a line drive, instead of in an upward, gentle arc. In addition, her footwork was all wrong.
Pellechio started attending sessions once or twice a week with the New Jersey legend. Somogyi reconstructed Pellechio’s mechanics and moved her inside the 3-point line. As Pellechio improved her technique and got stronger, she was able to increase her range.
“You’ve got to get the basic form down first in close and then work your way out as you get stronger,” Somogyi said. “A lot of kids want to bomb away from three and their form is terrible.”
Somogyi also used a number of timed drills and simulated game-like conditions. In about an hour, Somogyi says Pellechio would attempt about 300 shots, as well as between 50-75 foul shots. Repetition and intensity were critical, Somogyi says.
“A lot of kids go into the gym and shoot around for an hour, but what do you get out of it?” Somogyi asked rhetorically.
Pellechio would eventually sink 230 three-pointers and score 1,528 points for North Hunterdon High School, although she never hit more than six 3-pointers in a game; not until Nov. 20, anyway.
Jessica Pellechio and Marlene Stollings seem like a perfect match; Pellechio, the gym rat with a sweet stroke and Stollings, the high-energy coach with an up-tempo system in need of scorers.
It’s a perfect union that owes more to serendipity more than it does proper logistics. Pellechio was recruited to VCU by former Coach Beth Cunningham. Stollings was named Rams’ coach in the spring and was delighted to find that the cupboard was not bare.
“Well, I would’ve recruited Jess if I was here,” Stollings said with a grin after Pellechio’s 30-point outburst against UMKC. “She fits right into the system and style that we want to we want to play. It’s a good match, but the most valuable asset that Jess brings to the table is her work ethic.”
Pellechio says she never wavered in her commitment to VCU, but was happy that Stollings eventually won the job.
“Before her press conference…she contacted me and we talked a little bit and she said, ‘I heard you can shoot, and maybe we can get a game in one time.’’ Pellechio said. “That’s how I knew it would be a really good year and it’s a good system. Just researching her and looking at the press conference, everything that we got as far as background knowledge of her, it looked like she’s a great coach, and she is.”
Like Somogyi, Stollings knows a little something about putting the ball in the basket. Stollings scored more points (3,514) than any player, boy or girl, in Ohio high school history. She later earned All-America honors after averaging 22.9 points as a senior at Ohio University.
“She’s my kind of coach,” Pellechio said of Stollings. “I was really lucky to get an offensive coach like that. Don’t get me wrong, she loves defense too, but I was really lucky to get a coach like her.”