Pereira tried everything from the pole vault to the hurdles her freshman year with mixed results. But that year she met Lehighton field hockey and track standout Abby Frey at the Jim Thorpe Invitational.
Frey led the Indians' field hockey team to a state title earlier that year as a senior. She earned a scholarship to play the sport at North Carolina.
The next year, Frey messaged Pereira words of encouragement and the two have become best friends.
Pereira started playing field hockey in seventh grade after giving up cheerleading. Despite playing a different position each of the last three years at Palmerton, she has excelled.
"North Carolina's biggest interest in me is my speed," Pereira said. "It helped having Abby know the coaching staff."
Pereira has been to the Chapel Hill campus more than half a dozen times since last summer. In addition to loving the town and campus, she said UNC has a good reputation in her major.
"My dad [Jerry] talked to me about doing track in college, but I like the aggressiveness of field hockey," she said. "I like team sports, the opportunity to meet a lot of people and be a part of something big."
The 18-year-old has never run track just to do something in the spring. She has been as committed as anyone and worked hard to own five school records (100, 200, 400, 400 relay, 1,600 relay).
Her favorite event is the one that makes her the most nervous — the 400. There is strategy in understanding your body, she said. She doesn't want to sprint the first 300 meters only to have nothing left for the last 100.
Pereira also knows how to size up the competition and adjusts accordingly on the fly.
"She wants to be the fastest runner in the district," Gombert said. "To be the best in 3A, she'll have to beat the best.
"Jess had a phenomenal district meet last year. Now she has a new challenge. She's a fiery competitor. I expect her as an elite athlete to perform well."
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For a District 11 event schedule, go to http://www.themorningcall.com
DISTRICT 11 TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
Today-Thursday at Blue Mountain High School
Event, Top seed, District record, PIAA qualifying standard