Central Catholic Raiders Girls Basketball '07-'08

Raiders get a kick out of black belt Vienneau

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Central basketball player Jackie Vienneau was a youth karate champion. Here she is on the cover of Martial Arts USA in October 2000.

Tuesday, January, 15 By Alan Siegel
Staff writer

Embarrassing childhood photographs are often relegated to the bottom of a dusty shoebox in the basement, far, far away from prying eyes.

Central Catholic's Jackie Vienneau never really believed in that philosophy. Last winter, during a team-building exercise, she showed her teammates a picture from her days as a karate black belt.

"She looked like a little boy," senior guard Riley Dunn said. "She doesn't deny it, because she looked like one. We were all dying."

Vienneau, a 5-foot-7 senior point guard from Salem, began taking karate lessons at age 8.

"I was always a wicked tomboy," she said. "I liked fighting, all that kind of stuff."

Vienneau stopped practicing martial arts at 14, soon after she got her black belt. But today, she's as aggressive and fearless as ever.

"I think it kind of carried over into all the sports I've played," said Vienneau, who's averaging 8.5 points per game for the 5-3 Raiders.

Her goofy sense of humor is also important. In a season laden with serious expectations, she helps keep the defending Division 1 EMass. champion Raiders loose.

"She's definitely a very interesting young lady," Central coach Sue Downer said. "She's kind of loosey-goosey but she's very hard on herself on the court, too."

Vienneau rarely backs down from a challenge. "She's never afraid to do anything," her father Gary said. At 13, in order to get another belt, she had to spar an adult karate instructor. He didn't know she'd actually land a punch.

"Good job," he said while nursing a bloody nose. Two years earlier, at 11, she completed 1,000 sit-ups and 1,000 kicks | in one class.

It's that type of dogged attitude she needs to play the point in the Merrimack Valley Conference. Facing Andover's Meghan Thomann and Lowell's Ashley Rivera on a regular basis isn't easy.

"It's definitely a challenge," Downer said. "I think that she has definitely accepted that role."

This season has been trying at times for Vienneau and the Raiders. Losses to Methuen and Salem | her hometown | in the Greater Lawrence Christmas Tournament, were tough to take. But Vienneau is not about to cave in. It's not her nature. "I noticed that about the second or third grade, when she started karate," Gary said. "She's aggressive at all times." Martial arts, she said, ended up running its course. So she moved on to soccer and basketball.

"I was doing other sports and I was getting sick of it," said Vienneau, whose sister Sara was a standout for the 2003 Division 1 North champion Raiders and a two-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star in soccer. "I was like, 'Whatever, I'm done with that.'"

As serious as athletics are in her life, she still doesn't take herself too seriously. "We might be the two funniest people in the world," Dunn said with a laugh. "She's goofy, fun loving. She's a really good friend."

Vienneau hopes to bring her sense of humor and basketball skills to a college basketball program. She's already been accepted to Suffolk University and is soon making an official visit to Southern New Hampshire University. She's also considering a post-graduate year at New Hampton Prep. But for now, she's concentrating on the task at hand | finding a way back to TD Banknorth Garden.

"Last year, going that far, I remember thinking, 'This is a great accomplishment,'" Vienneau said. "We might not go that far (this season). Hopefully we can get there."

With Vienneau around, the Raiders have at least a puncher's chance.

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