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Former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love won nearly $71,000 on 'Wheel of Fortune' in July.

Former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love won nearly $71,000 on ‘Wheel of Fortune’ in July.

RICHMOND, Va. – Over the years, few things were as predictable in Deloris Johnson’s household as her whereabouts from 7-8 p.m., Monday through Friday. Every weeknight, she could be counted on to tune in to “Wheel of Fortune”, the iconic, long-running syndicated game show. It’s been that way for years.

But Monday’s episode was like no other for the Louisa County resident. That’s because on Monday night, she watched her granddaughter, former VCU track star Verniece (Johnson) Love, win nearly $71,000 on the show.

Love, who was raised by Johnson, says she’d watch “Wheel” nearly every night with her grandmother and used to talk about spinning the wheel when she grew up.

“She was so excited,” Love said of her grandmother. “I talked to her again this morning. She kept saying how proud she was of me and how pretty I looked on TV. She’s been talking about it nonstop. I think she called everybody in Louisa County.”

Johnson won’t be the only one sharing the story now. For the first time, Love is able to talk about the big win on “Wheel.” Love actually filmed her episode on July 11 at the show’s studios in Culver City, California, but was required to sign a confidentiality agreement. Now, it’s all anyone wants to talk about.

“Since last night, my phone has been blowing up,” said Love, who lives in Richmond with her husband, Darryl, and their two children. “I had people who didn’t believe I was going to be on the show, and now my phone and my Facebook have been going bananas.”

Love attended VCU from 2005-09 and was a standout on the track and field team. She still owns the program’s indoor and outdoor long jump records. She graduated in 2009 with a degree in marketing, and also minored in African American studies and economics. She met her husband, who studied finance, at VCU. Today, she is a certification officer with the Virginia Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity.



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Jaleesa Williams stands, moments after releasing a throw at the 2013 NCAA Discus Championship.

Jaleesa Williams stands, moments after releasing a throw at the 2013 NCAA Discus Championship.

Don’t assume that Jaleesa Williams’ outsized personality means she’s boisterous about her successes. She could fill pickup truck with all the awards she’s won during her four-year career as VCU’s most distinguished thrower. Yet, Williams says her Richmond apartment bears little evidence of her All-American career. Instead, she sends all her trophies home with her mother, Julia.

“She’ll appreciate it more than me,” Williams says. “It’s something to be able to give your mother an MVP trophy for all the hard work and hard-headedness she had to withstand. All the long, cold indoor track meets in high school, being underappreciated, it’s like, ‘here you go.’”

This week, Williams is going to try to win one more for her mom, as well as her father, John.

On Thursday, Williams returns to the NCAA Championships at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where she hopes to secure one of eight coveted All-America statuettes in the discus. Last season, the Virginia Beach native placed 12th at the national meet to earn Second Team All-America honors, the first thrower, man or woman, in program history to receive that distinction.

This year, Williams is better than ever. On May 30 at the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Florida, Williams uncorked a school-record heave of 57.97 meters (190’ 2’’) to place third and punch her return ticket to Eugene. There’s plenty of reason to believe Williams is poised for more history. Her preliminary round mark would have won last year’s national championship and is more than four meters longer than her mark from the 2013 meet (53.12m).



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VCU has one of the best groups of throwers in the Atlantic 10, and junior Ryan Coles is one reason why. The junior from New Kent finished second at the A-10 Indoor Championships this winter in the shot put and fourth in the weight throw. VCU Athletics recently sat down with Ryan to get to know him a little better.


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Folks, the Fall 2013 edition of The Ram Report is now available online. Check out profiles on Men’s Soccer goalie Andrew Wells, Women’s Soccer Coach Lindsey Vanderspiegel, former first round draft pick Justin Orenduff and Field Hockey’s Nicole Barry, who had an interesting summer internship, plus a bunch of other good stuff. Click the cover below to read it all.



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Former VCU sprinter Dom Costanzo recently earned an invitation to the USOC's Skeleton School in November.

Former VCU sprinter Dom Costanzo recently earned an invitation to the USOC’s Skeleton School in November.

RICHMOND, Va. – It’s probably not fair to call Dom Costanzo an adrenaline junkie, but he’s dabbled. From skydiving to snowboarding, the former VCU sprinter knows how to get his blood pumping. But speeding downhill at 80 miles per hour, on a sled slightly larger than a cafeteria tray? That’s new.

But that’s what lies ahead for the 22-year-old Costanzo, who recently won an invitation to USA Bobsled and Skeleton’s “Skeleton School” in November. Skeleton is an Olympic sliding sport similar to luge, but with competitors lying chest-down and face-first on their way down an icy track.

Costanzo, who graduated from VCU in 2013 with a degree in business management, earned his spot at Skeleton School through one of Team USA’s skeleton combines in Lake Placid, N.Y. Eleven of the combines, which are available to any person willing to try, were staged between May and September in seven North American cities.

Participants are graded on their abilities to perform eight different physical challenges that reflect the blend of speed and strength necessary for skeleton, including 15-, 30- and 45-meter dashes, the broad jump, squat and weigh toss. Each event is worth up to 100 points, which means the highest possible combined score is 800. Those with a score of 700 or better generally receive an invite to skeleton school, a feeder program to help the United States unearth and develop talent. Costanzo scored 749 points, which ranked fifth among the 34 combine attendees who took their shot this summer. Just 12 reached the 700-point threshold.



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Wrong A-B-C...whatever, close enough.

Wrong A-B-C…whatever, close enough.

June marks the conclusion of the college athletics calendar, and July’s arrival effectively signals the beginning of the 2013-14 season, at least for those of us in the biz, anyway. It all makes this week a good time to reflect back on the year that was in VCU Athletics.

A – is for Atlantic 10 Conference, in which, according to our slogan, the Rams were ‘all-in’. We were also all-in for another season of “Arrested Development” and Pop Tart ice cream sandwiches, so we’re having a good year. VCU competed in the A-10 for the first time in 2012-13, a move that has elevated the program’s national profile. The Rams’ first A-10 title came via the women’s tennis squad, followed by a men’s tennis crown days later. Meanwhile, several other sports (men’s basketball, women’s soccer, men’s soccer) reached the league’s championship final.

B – is for the Ball family, one of the driving forces behind the VCU Golf program. They’re like the Kennedy’s of VCU Golf, but with a better short game. Matt Ball may have just completed his 14th season with the Rams, but this one was surely different than the others. That’s because 40 percent of his starting lineup was occupied by sons Adam and Matt Jr. Son Adam, a freshman, led the Rams in scoring average (73.53) this year, while Matt Jr., a junior, placed seventh at the A-10 Championship and was named to the league’s All-Academic Team.

C – is for Courtney Conrad, the alliteratively named star of the women’s soccer team. Conrad led the Rams with 11 goals, including five game-winners, and received All-Mid-Atlantic by the NSCAA.

D – is for Daniels, Troy. If you are a fan of basketball players who score three points at a time (and the signed, obscure Mark Price picture in my dining room proves I am), then you would’ve enjoyed Daniels’ 2012-13 season. In 36 games, Daniels bombed a school-record 124 three-pointers, including games of 11, nine and eight.



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Williams (left) with Tussing after qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

Williams (left) with Tussing after qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

RICHMOND, Va. – Jaleesa Williams’ relationship with the discus has been a relatively short one, but her legacy in the event could last a long time.

Williams qualified for the NCAA Championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. with three monster throws last weekend at the NCAA East Preliminary meet in Greensboro, N.C., obliterating school records and her own frustration in the process. Her second throw of the day traveled 52.23 meters (171’ 4’’), a personal-best by three meters. Williams, a redshirt junior, is the first thrower in program history to reach the NCAA Championships.

Williams’ breakthrough performance in Greensboro underscored her four-year renaissance in the discus. When VCU Throwing Coach Ethan Tussing recruited Williams, it was mainly for her abilities as a shot putter. Discus was somewhat of an afterthought. That’s because Williams’ performances in the discus were, according to her, less than elite.

“It was horrible,” Williams says, punctuating the assessment with a hearty laugh. “It was so bad.”



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VCU junior Jaleesa Williams poses in front of her school-record mark at the NCAA East Regional last week.

VCU junior Jaleesa Williams poses in front of her school-record mark at the NCAA East Regional last week.

RICHMOND, Va. – Two VCU athletes punched their tickets to the NCAA Championships last weekend, and the ripple effects could be felt for years to come.

Sophomore Kiara Porter was fifth and shattered her own school record in the 400-meter run, while junior Jaleesa Williams placed sixth and demolished the program mark in the discus at the NCAA East Regional last weekend in Greensboro, N.C. to secure their bids. It’s just the second time two VCU women have reached the NCAA Championships in the same season, and the first since 1997. Williams is the first VCU thrower in school history to advance from the regional meet.

Their performances stamped an exclamation point on VCU Head Coach Jon Riley’s fifth season with the Rams. Riley inherited a program that was largely uncompetitive on the conference level, let alone the national stage, and has guided it to unmatched prominence. But even measured against accomplishments of the last few years, Porter’s and Williams’ regional performances were a breakthrough.

“I feel like it’s a total validation for years of 60-hour weeks and all the time that we’ve put in,” said Throwing Coach Ethan Tussing.

Beyond that, they could be another springboard for the resurgent program. VCU was the only school in the Atlantic 10 Conference to send two athletes to Eugene, Ore. for the NCAA Championship meet. That kind of information will raise a few eyebrows.



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Kiara Porter ran for the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

Kiara Porter ran for the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships.

RICHMOND, Va. – Her name is Kiara Porter. She’s 5-feet tall, from Yorktown, and is most likely faster than you. In the time it takes you to walk to the copier, she can win a gold medal.

Just a sophomore, she’s already broken or assisted in six school records, won seven conference titles and represented the United States in the 1,600-meter relay at the World Junior Track and Field Championships in Barcelona last summer, where she won – you guessed it – a gold medal. Earlier this month, she was named the most outstanding performer of the Atlantic 10 Conference Outdoor Championships after winning four events. By several units of measure – particularly at 400 meters – she’s the fastest woman in VCU in history. It’s not by accident.

“Everything I put on paper, she tries to hit it,” says VCU Track Coach Jon Riley. “She’s just focused. Her work ethic and her work capacity to do a lot of intensity is high. She has a high threshold for pain. That makes her very successful.”

All that pain has been worth plenty of gain for the rising junior. While many of her peers are just starting to hit their athletic stride, figuratively speaking, Porter is eying the next big thing. For her, that’s reaching in the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. in June.


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