Powerhouse Performers These five gifted athletes will be among the difference makers when the spring's champions are crowned

May 09, 2004

JERED WEAVER

School: Long Beach State
Class: Junior
Sport: Baseball
Hometown: Simi Valley, Calif.

Jeff's little brother has become the nation's premier
collegiate hurler

Two pitches. Anyone watching Long Beach State righthander Jered
Weaver in the top of the eighth inning last Friday night at his
home park would have wagered that he was two pitches from his
13th consecutive victory. The bases were loaded with UC Santa
Barbara runners, but the 6'7" junior with the
shoulder-length shag of blond hair had a 4-0 lead, two outs
and a 2-and-1 count on Gauchos batter Chris Malec. After seven
innings the line for the rangy righty with the 94-mph fastball
read, no runs, two hits, 12 strikeouts, no walks. His outfielders
had yet to make a putout. For Weaver, whose older brother, Jeff,
pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it was just another Friday
night.

"It's almost holy," pitching coach Troy Buckley
has said of his ace's spring performance. "What
we're seeing here probably is never going to happen
again."

Let other pitchers flirt with a perfect game. What Weaver, who
was raised in Simi Valley, Calif., has been pursuing is a perfect
season. His numbers entering Friday night were astounding: 12
wins in 12 starts, a 1.13 ERA, 132 strikeouts and 12 walks (an
11-to-1 ratio) in 87 2/3 innings. On Feb. 13 against Southern Cal,
Weaver fanned the first 10 batters en route to a 3-1 win.
"I've never seen that in all my days," said Mike
Weathers, 54, manager of the Dirtbags (Long Beach State's
official nickname is the 49ers, but the baseball team uses the
more down-to-earth moniker adopted in 1989 to describe the
team's gritty style), "and I'm not sure I will
again."

He did. Three weeks later, against Brigham Young, Weathers
watched Weaver repeat the 10-whiff feat at the start of a 3-1
win. On March 24, against then 10th-ranked Wichita State, Weaver
struck out 16 batters in six innings. "Not even Roger
Clemens [did that]," said inveterate Shockers manager Gene
Stephenson. "Weaver is the most dominant pitcher I've
faced in my 27 years."

The Dirtbags (30-11) are counting on that dominance to carry
them through the College World Series in June. Long Beach State
hasn't made the trip to Omaha since 1998 and has never
finished higher than fourth, but with a No. 4 national ranking
and college baseball's best pitcher, the team will be one of
the favorites when the tournament's regional play begins on
June 4.

The Weaver brothers, Jered, 21, and Jeff, 27, have plenty in
common. They both wear jersey number 36, and each is his
respective school's career strikeouts leader. (Jeff, a
former walk-on at Fresno State, had 477 for the Bulldogs; Jered
became the Long Beach record holder on Friday with 362.) Both
inspire stadium public-address-system operators to play Gary
Wright's 1976 tune Dream Weaver before the first pitch. Jeff
wears an interlocking LA on his cap, Jered an LB, and they take
the mound only 30 miles apart. They may soon share even more:
Last year Jeff was on the New York Yankees' staff alongside
veteran lefty David Wells. Jered, the potential No. 1 pick in
June's big league draft, could join Wells on the staff of
the San Diego Padres, who hold the first pick and signed Wells
over the winter.

Yet the contrast in style between the two is noteworthy. Jeff at
times appears anguished on the mound. Jered's regimen before
each inning, which includes exchanging a long-distance
crossed-forearms salute with centerfielder Steve Velazco and
inscribing his deceased grandparents' initials in the dirt
behind the mound, seems almost Fidrychian. "That just
relaxes me when I'm out there," Jered says.

But 122 pitches into his outing on Friday, Weaver for once did
not appear relaxed. He fired a 91-mph heater, Malec swung
and-bang-deposited a grand slam over the rightfield wall. Weaver
trudged off the mound with the score tied at 4 and his first
no-decision of the season; the Gauchos scored four in the ninth
to win 8-4.

One night earlier Jered had sat in Dodger Stadium watching Jeff
pitch. Trailing 3-1 in the seventh inning, his big brother
had loaded the bases with two outs and Mike Piazza batting. On a
3-and-2 pitch, Jeff struck out Piazza swinging on high heat.
Immediately afterward dad Dave, who was sitting a few rows in
front of Jered, called him over for a quick lesson. "He was
just telling me not to let the situation get to me," Jered
recalled after his own game. "Where to spot the ball. Little
points like that." He heaved a sigh. "Jeff got it done.
I didn't."

Dirtbags opponents shouldn't count on that happening too
often. --John Walters

SANYA RICHARDS

School: Texas
Class: Sophomore
Sport: Track and Field
Hometown: Pembroke Pines, Fla.

The Longhorns' standout melds pure speed with perfect
technique

When Sanya Richards was in eighth grade, her mother, Sharon, gave
her a necklace that bespoke her daughter's future. Hanging
from the chain was a bullet. "As in faster than a
speeding...," Sanya says. "She knew even then."
Armed with that unusual good-luck charm, the Texas sophomore has
emerged as the fastest quarter-miler in the country. On
consecutive weekends last June, Richards won national 400-meter
titles at the NCAA and the U.S. championships. Then in August,
she anchored the U.S. 4 x 400-meter relay team to a gold medal
at the world championships in Paris. This March, less than a
month after her 19th birthday, Richards won the NCAA indoor title
in a collegiate record 50.82 seconds. "Fastest child
you've ever seen," says her father, Archie, who moved
the family to Fort Lauderdale from its native Jamaica when Sanya
was 12. "And she's just learning."

Credit Sanya's success to some good teachers. Archie was a
member of Jamaica's national under-19 soccer team, and
Sharon owned a fitness gym in Kingston. But when the family
arrived in Florida, Sanya and her sister, Shari, younger by one
year, were in for culture shock. "Initially I dreaded
it," says Sanya, who lives off campus with Shari, a freshman
sprinter and long jumper. "In Jamaica we all wore uniforms
in school, and the kids were respectful. In the States, well, the
kids just yelled at the teachers."

Sanya kept to herself at first, but once she got on the track she
burst out of her bubble. "When people found out I could run,
I acquired a bunch of friends," she says. Sanya emerged as a
star at St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, where she
became a member of the National Honor Society, set a U.S. high
school record in the 400 meters (50.69 seconds) and resolved to
compete for her adopted country.

At home Archie, a real estate investor, and Sharon, a travel
consultant, converted the family's two-car garage into a
gym. They loaded it up with a weight bench, free weights, a
stationary bike, a squat rack, a treadmill and a Universal
machine. Sanya would train with her mother for an hour and then
have weightlifting contests with her. "Sanya always had to
be the best," says Sharon. "It didn't take too
long for her to start kicking my butt and put me into retirement.
At 16, she was squatting like a champion--250 pounds."

After the weight sessions Archie would take over, leading Sanya
through some of the drills he used to do during soccer season.
Today, Sanya does between 1,000 and 2,000 sit-ups on
noncompetition days. Archie also began building a video library,
which now contains some 200 hours of footage from Sanya's
races and those of her competitors. He was especially proud when
it became necessary to start collecting tapes of international
opponents.

Sanya's style is now so sound and polished that it's
tough to judge her pace by watching her run alone, outside the
context of other competitors. She'll get a chance to show
her speed at the NCAA championships on her home turf in Austin
during the second weekend in June--and at the Olympic trials in
Sacramento a month later. Richards is all but certain to be in
Athens in August, but with a personal best of 50.58 she may be
one Games away from challenging the likes of Mexico's
400-meter world champ, Ana Guevara, who ran under 50 seconds five
times last season.

As she prepares for a challenging summer, Richards is keeping her
goals close to heart--literally. Last month she was among a group
of Olympians and Athens hopefuls photographed on a California
beach for Vogue by renowned portrait photographer Annie
Liebowitz. Around her neck hung a telltale sign of her swiftness:
a bullet on a chain. --Brian Cazeneuve

MIKE POWELL

School: Syracuse
Class: Senior
Sport: Lacrosse
Hometown: West Carthage, N.Y.

The third of three high-scoring brothers may be the best of them
all

For 21-year-old lacrosse trailblazer Michael Powell, a typical
high-scoring performance in his final regular-season home game
simply would not do. So in a 17-10 win over Massachusetts at
the Carrier Dome last Saturday, the senior attackman spiced his
career--high six-goal show with an acrobatic feat of his own
invention. While carrying the ball downfield in the fourth
quarter, Powell did a forward flip in midstride, hit the turf and
unleashed a shot that just missed. The move sent the crowd into
hysterics. "Some people lose sight of the fact that sports
can be entertainment," says Powell, whose flair for the
dramatic extends to the elaborate mask of coal--black greasepaint
he applies before each game. "I like to express my
individuality and just have fun with it."

Powell has been hell--bent on leaving his mark on the sport since
the fall of 2000, when he followed his celebrated brothers, Casey
(1995-98) and Ryan (1997-2000), to Syracuse. During a
freshman season in which he was awarded the first of three
straight Turnball Awards as college lacrosse's attackman of
the year, he embarked on a scoring tear that now threatens the
alltime Syracuse points record held jointly by Casey and Ryan. In
the 16-team NCAA tournament that begins on May 15, Mike will need
six points to surpass his brothers' mark of 287. "I
push him every day about that record," says Ryan, 26, who
volunteers as an assistant coach for No. 4-ranked Syracuse.
"He's such a good player, he shouldn't just pass
it by a couple points but ought to blow it away."

For Powell, chasing after his brothers is nothing new. Growing up
in West Carthage, N.Y.--which Mike calls "one of the few
towns in America where more kids are walking down the street with
lacrosse sticks than basketballs"--Casey and Ryan idolized
Syracuse's original fraternal force, twins Gary and Paul
Gait (1987-90), and honed their skills in countless backyard
games. Little Mike was permitted to join in, as long as he minded
the net. Using fishing net for lack of a goalie stick, he got
pounded by shots time and again. "When you're the
little guy playing with the big dogs," says Mike, "you
can't help but get better."

Now, says Syracuse coach John Desko, "Mike could be the best
ever." At 5'9" and 165 pounds, Powell is smaller
than his brothers but quicker and craftier. Along with
ankle-breaking dodges, he has perfected the behind-the-back
shot--lacrosse's original circus trick, popularized by the
Gait brothers-and has developed a trick of his own: the
between-the-legs pass. Against Hobart on March 30, Powell wowed
the crowd when he charged the crease, threaded his stick between
his legs and sailed a perfect pass to teammate Brian Nee, who
bounced the ball off the pipe, just missing a goal. "By
doing moves players have never done before, he takes it upon
himself to be the ambassador of the game," says Desko.
"It's those things that help the sport grow."

After taking a run at the school scoring record and a second NCAA
title in four years, the latest and greatest Powell will graduate
with a degree in child and family studies. He plans to join his
brothers in the pros; Ryan and Casey play for the Rochester
Rattlers in Major League Lacrosse. But Mike also has goals
outside the game: A guitar player and songwriter, he hopes to
land a recording contract. "With Mike you never quite know
what he's going to do next," says Ryan. "But
because he strives so hard in whatever he does, you just know
it's going to be a success." --Kelley King

TOMMY SKIPPER

School: Oregon
Class: Freshman
Sport: Track and Field
Hometown: Sandy, Ore.

Vaulting's next big star takes to the air in memory of his
late brother

It didn't take long for Tommy Skipper to figure out that you
don't become a legend at Oregon just by raising the bar.
Despite breaking the school's 19-year-old indoor pole vault
record in February, clearing 18' 8 3/4" in his third
college meet, the Ducks' freshman knew his form was
mediocre. "I strive to be in the company of guys like
Alberto Salazar and Dean Krauser," he says of the former
Oregon track and field greats. "I want to clear 19 feet
consistently. There are a lot of things I still need to iron out
to get there."

Last month Skipper, 19, made a controversial switch of coaches
within the Oregon staff, turning to women's pole vault coach
Mark Vanderville (who had guided the Ducks' Becky Holliday
to the 2003 NCAA title) for help in overhauling his form.
"Tommy has a lot of speed and raw power, but as an elite
vaulter his technique was lacking," Vanderville says.
"He's willing to fix his technique because he realizes
he has the ability to be the best pole vaulter in America."

The 6'2", 195-pound Skipper had already established
himself as the nation's premier junior vaulter last year
when he set a national high school record of 18'3". A
two-time U.S. junior outdoor champ, he had won four times in nine
meets as a collegian at week's end and was runner-up at the
NCAA indoor championships in March. While he is temporarily
sacrificing height for improved technique, he's looking for
the changes to pay off at the NCAA outdoor championships in
Austin, June 9-12.

Skipper knows how to get a job done. Growing up in Sandy, Ore.,
at the foot of Mount Hood, he and his four older siblings were
expected to work the family's 120-acre property, which
includes an airstrip, three hangars and a sawmill. Tommy learned
to operate an excavator at age nine and a year later was cutting
down towering firs and cedars with a chain saw and setting floor
beams for the family's 4,000-square-foot house, which took
10 years to build. "Pole vaulting was my play time," he
says. "When I started going to practice [in seventh grade],
other kids complained about how it was hard work. I had just come
from real work."

Skipper's two brothers were also Ducks standouts. Scott, 39,
was an outside linebacker in the '80s and held the
school's javelin record. Art Jr., six years younger than
Scott, broke that javelin mark as a freshman, won the NCAA title
in 1992 and twice went to the Olympic trials. In October '01
Art Jr. was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed a
mile from the family's airfield. "Every time I step
onto the track," says Tommy, "I think about Art."

After the NCAAs, Skipper's goal is to earn a spot on the
Olympic team, and beyond that to join the ranks of Eugene's
track and field elite--a notion closely linked to his thoughts
about his late brother. "I feel close to Art here,"
Skipper says. "I want to continue his legacy and make him as
proud of me as possible." --Yi-Wyn Yen

JESSICA VAN DER LINDEN

School: Florida State
Class: Senior
Sport: Softball
Hometown: Cerritos, Calif.

An unbridled passion burns in the college game's most
versatile player

She's going to be a bit a slow, the doctors said as they laid
all four pounds and 14 inches of Jessica van der Linden into an
incubator for premature babies. Jessica van der Linden fires a
62-mile-per-hour fastball for her 14th strikeout of the day.
She's going to take a while to develop her coordination,
they warned. Jessica van der Linden strokes an RBI single to give
Florida State a victory over ACC rival North Carolina. She's
going to take a little more time. Jessica van der Linden
completes her ninth career no-hitter to clinch the conference
title.

At home in Cerritos, Calif., they call van der Linden the
miracle. At Florida State she's the softball team's
heart. "She plays with an awful lot of it," says
Seminoles coach JoAnne Graf. Through last weekend van der Linden,
a senior, had led Florida State to a 52-5 record, the
Seminoles' 11th regular-season ACC championship and the
highest national ranking (No. 2) in school history. She's a
main reason why Florida State has a chance to win its first
Women's College World Series title.

In Oklahoma City in late May, van der Linden will ball up her
fist, thump her chest twice and point to a teammate--the signal
she uses when in centerfield to mean You've gotta have
heart. Dig deep. If she's not college softball's best
player, she's surely its most versatile. As a pitcher she
has a 23-4 record and an 0.52 ERA; in center she has a
perfect 1.000 fielding percentage; at the plate she leads the
Seminoles in batting, with a .371 average, and has 18
game-winning RBIs. "She can do everything very well,"
says Graf. "When I recruited her, I was looking at her more
as a pitcher, but the nice thing was, we got the whole
package."

It took plenty of practice to get there. With the help of her
father, Case--who fastened a tarp to the house to catch wayward
balls-young Jessica perfected her fastball. Soon she was working
on screwballs and dropballs, knucklers and changeups. At 15
Jessica joined the Orange County Batbusters, one of the
nation's premier traveling teams, and began attracting the
attention of college recruiters. She also attracted the attention
of the Puerto Rican national team; Jessica represented her mother
Martha's homeland at the 2002 world championships and the
2003 Pan American Games.

Though van der Linden has been drafted into the newly formed
National Pro Fastpitch league, she's vowed to walk away from
the game after the season. "I knew I would stop playing
softball when college was over," says van der Linden, who
already has her bachelor's degree in child development.
"I played ball to get to college."

But the sport that has taken her on trips to Venezuela and Canada
and throughout the U.S. has one last parting gift. After an
awards ceremony for Florida State athletes in 2001, van der
Linden met Seminoles linebacker Michael Boulware, who was
slurping noodles from a pan. It was love between bites. On July 3
Boulware, a 2004 draft pick of the Seattle Seahawks, and van der
Linden will wed. After all, you've gotta have heart-so that
when the right time comes you can give it away. --Melissa Segura

COLOR PHOTO: LARRY GOREN/WIREIMAGE.COM THE RIGHTY STUFF With the undefeated Weaver on the hill, LongBeach will be no long shot to reach Omaha. COLOR PHOTO: KIRBY LEE/WIREIMAGE.COM ONE LOVE Thanks to her parents' coaching, the Jamaican-bornRichards has been on track for gold since childhood. COLOR PHOTO: KEVIN RIVOLI (POWELL) FANCY STICKWORK Powell has set the stage to surpass the Syracusescoring record shared by brothers Casey and Ryan. COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN DAVIES HIGHER CALLING Already a champion vaulter, Skipper has beenhoning his form in the run-up to the summer's big meets. COLOR PHOTO: GARY BOGDON CAREER WINDUP A dominant pitcher, van der Linden also leads theSeminoles in hitting and is a standout centerfielder.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)