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Sufka a super sophomore

Michael Traum

Sarah Sufka is a pure athlete – a student of competition and toughness by whom all comers can accurately measure their worth.

Whether it’s lifting weights after a rigorous track workout, making the extra basketball pass without hesitation or busting out an extra burst to right an errant volleyball bump, the Whittell High sophomore is blessed with an energetic desire to succeed.

For her unparalleled efforts, Sufka is the 1997 Tribune Female Athlete of the Year for the school.

“Heart is a big thing and so is a desire to do it. I’m not exactly gifted. But if I want something bad enough, I’ll work hard to get it,” Sufka said. “I just want to compete and not settle for anything except my best.”

A seemingly simple credo by which to base athletic endeavors. But as anyone who has ever competed or coached knows – actions do the talking.

“She’s practically the perfect athlete,” said Whittell High track coach, Dan Makley. “In more than 20 years of coaching, Sarah’s the hardest worker I can remember. She’s very determined and has tremendous courage.”

Makley’s words echo resoundingly through the gaping hole Sufka has cut athletically at the small 3A school. Not only has she set or been a part of numerous school records, but her very presence on the court or field elevates the performances around her.

“I could not have a Sarah and we might not amount to anything,” said Makley, who sent eight athletes to the state finals. “It’s fair to say her leadership is one of the main ingredients that made the team successful. Someone like Sarah makes your team and everyone else has to attempt to keep up.”

Sufka’s shine shone brightly indoors as well. Always the first and most vocal to encourage her teammates, the sophomore’s effort usually exuded a post-prep level luster.

“I want to be a leader. Not a ball hog or anything, but I like having teammates count on me. And I can’t stand just sitting there watching. I love competition and the feeling of doing your best.”

And with the physical ability to perform sharpening into shape this season, Sufka’s intellectual circumstance was free to flourish.

“She grew a lot mentally and gained composure on the floor,” said Whittell hoops coach Lindsay Wines. “As one of the younger players out there, Sarah was able to show a lot of leadership and inspiration to players on the team. She’s a very dedicated athlete and that’s what has put her at the top.”

Added volleyball coach Dan McLaughlin, “Just her presence makes people want to win. Sarah’s not big on lectures, she’s big on, ‘Let me show you what I’ve got, and you try and keep up.’ It’s an instinct that can’t be coached.”

But while she excelled as a setter in volleyball and her dream is to play collegiate hoops, perhaps no other venue extracted Sufka’s raw talent than the sprint events in track.

She set or was a part of school records in the open 800, 1,600 relay and 3,200 relay events, with a much-coveted open 400 record just fractions away. But in addition to the numbers, her work ethic carved the pace. Even with a foot injury, she never missed a practice, or repetition during practice, the entire season.

“I feel privileged that I got to work with her, to tell you the truth. It was a great experience for me,” Makley said. “The pressure on the good athlete is tremendous. Sarah needs to learn to make sure she takes care of herself. And, she needs to stay focused on her goals in each season, to take each season as it comes along. I don’t think she has to worry.”

Worry – with the expectation and possible college implications riding on her every athletic move during the next two years – is a concept that Sufka simply refuses to understand.

“I’ve had success so far and expectations coming up. But now is when it really starts to get exciting, when I have to go harder and prove myself. I don’t think I can get burned out,” she said.

Her opponents could only hope …


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