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Knoch grad honored for success

| Monday, March 13, 2006

Back when she was Jen Crouch, Jen Kopac dominated the PIAA in the javelin. For her accomplishments, she was inducted into the Pennsylvania Track and Field Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago.

The ceremony took place on the campus of Penn State, following the PIAA Indoor Championshiops. It was a fitting place to end a successful career. After graduating from Knoch in 1989, Kopac threw the javelin for the Nittany Lions.

While at Knoch, Kopac made it to the PIAA Track and Field Championships in the javelin four years in a row. She placed sixth in her freshman year, and then, won the gold the next three years. She also went to states three years in a row for the shot put, taking second place her junior and senior seasons.

Kopac, 34, is the first Knoch track and field athlete inducted into the hall of fame.

"It was pretty wild, actually," she said. "I wasn't really expecting it. It's a big honor."

Kopac was presented at the ceremony by her former Knoch coach Fred Bernard, who was the Knights' coach for 24 years. He was an assistant coach for eight years before taking over in 1979.

Bernard and Kopac have a special relationship.

"I don't know how to describe it," Kopac said. "We're both adults now and can still relate to each other. He was a great motivator."

Said Bernard: "I know her as a very dedicated mother -- she has two great kids -- and a dedicated wife. I had the honor of watching her grow from a young girl into a young lady into a parent. It's been nice seeing the progression she has had."

Kopac didn't just come out of nowhere. Bernard tracked her early career through camps and Junior Olympic events. But it wasn't until her freshman year when he realized how much potential she actually had.

"Her freshman year, she made it to states in the javelin," Bernard said. "She had two throws that landed out of the sector that would've won it. I said to myself, 'Wow, this girl's gonna be awesome.' I mean, she just went out there and threw."

Throwing runs in Kopac's family. Her older brothers, Stan and Mike, both earned medals in field events at the state level. In fact, all three siblings hold Knoch school records. Mike, a 1983 Knoch graduate, holds the school record in the shot put (54-9), while Stan, a 1978 graduate, has the discuss record (158-5 1/2). Kopac holds two Knoch records: the girls javelin (165-9) and the girls shot put (43-7). Kopac (5-foot-10) set Knoch's javelin record in her junior year at the WPIAL Qualifiers in Butler. At the time, her throw of 165-9 was the furthest of any high school girl in the country.

"We're all field people," Stan said. "We're not little people I guess you could say."

The Crouch's were so successful in field events that Stan joked that going to the state track meet became "pretty much a tradition."

Kopac, a sports performance coach at Velocity Sports Performance in Gibsonia, credited watching her brothers as a young girl as one of her learning tools.

"Watching Stan and Mike throw came into effect," she said.

However, Kopac's earliest training in throwing came with a pigskin.

"Throwing a lot of footballs as a kid made me into a natural thrower," she said.

Bernard said that Kopac's family support and work ethic is what set her above the rest of her peers.

"She was a fiece competitor to say the least," he said. "She didn't like losing. She had that spirit that a lot of times the only way you get it is through hard work. Although, a lot of it was natural talent."

Kopac credits her mother with instilling that spirit in her.

"She was a tough lady," Kopac said.

Though she dominated high school track and saw success at Penn State, where she majored in kinesiology, Kopac said her greatest two accomplishments are her two children, Abby, 5, and Rocky, 3.

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