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Track star is back as coach

A Pasco County legend will begin a new legacy this spring: as a coach.

Former River Ridge running star Jacki Wachtel, known as Jacki Waller when she became the county's first four-time cross country champion, was named the boys and girls cross country coach and boys track coach at Mitchell on Tuesday.

Wachtel, 24, is in her second year as a teacher at Mitchell, where she teaches precalculus and 10th grade math.

She has dreamed of coaching since her high school days winning on courses and tracks all over the North Suncoast, and after graduating from Ohio University in 2001 she came back to Pasco County to make it happen.

"I've always wanted to be a coach, since my freshman year of high school," she said. "I figured I would have a better chance of getting a coaching position here because I ran in high school here."

She didn't just run; she dominated, winning four Sunshine Athletic Conference championships from 1993-97. The distance runner also was a star on the track.

"I'm very fortunate to have someone like her sitting within our four walls at this school with her experience, knowledge and love of the sport," Mustangs athletic director Ian Mooney said. "I couldn't ask for anybody better to step up and take those positions."

Waller was the girls assistant track coach and a volunteer coach on the boys cross country team. Now she takes over two of the county's top squads: the Mitchell boys cross country team is coming off back-to-back top 10 finishes at state; and the boys track team was conference runner-up last season.

Wachtel was the only inhouse candidate of the three who applied for the position, and Mooney said the school wanted a coach who taught at the school and who would be ready when track practice starts Feb. 9. The track coaching supplement in Pasco County is $2,102; she will earn both cross country supplements, $1,536 apiece.

Coaching runs in her new family. On Dec. 20 she married Brian Wachtel, an assistant football coach and boys junior varsity soccer coach at her alma mater, River Ridge.

She replaces suspended boys cross country and track coach Bill Napolitano, who coached her when she was at River Ridge.

Napolitano, 45, was arrested Dec. 20 in New Port Richey, accused of offering an undercover police officer $20 for oral sex. In 1998, he pleaded no contest to a Hillsborough County arrest on the same charge, which ended his coaching career at River Ridge.

He has been suspended with pay since his 2003 arrest.