Warrior bookends ready for bigger challenges
Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a four-part series honoring the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s male and female athletes of the year at South Tahoe and George Whittell high schools.
They have shared the highs, lows and all the in betweens of high school athletics. They studied on long bus rides and quizzed each other in the bleachers, demonstrating how time management, dedication and regimen lead to academic success. The coaches they are leaving behind have no doubts that they’ll succeed in college and beyond.
As far as role models go, Aurora Terry and Sarah Sufka are two of a kind and irreplaceable at George Whittell High School. Hence, the seniors will share the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s Whittell female athlete of the year award.
And that’s the way they prefer it.
“We’ve always had each other to lean on. We’ve never really had a major competition, but it’s been unspoken. It’s not like we’re trying to compete against each other, we’re trying to make each other better,” Terry said.
“Aurora and I have helped each other immensely in the past four years. We’re friends, but we also have the competition among ourselves to make us better. I know neither one of us would be as good as we are if we didn’t have each other pushing us along all four years,” Sufka said.
No matter what uniform they wore, the dynamic duo poured their hearts and soul into sports. Sufka earned an unprecedented 12 varsity letters in her three-sport regiment of volleyball, basketball and track, while Terry crowded her varsity letter jacket with 10 Warrior logos.
“In the dictionary I swear there is a picture of Sarah next to team player,” said Whittell volleyball coach Dan McLaughlin. “This is a person who doesn’t care about individual awards. The only award she cares about is the W’s for her team.
“Aurora’s athletic gift was very natural. A lot of girls plateau early and don’t improve. Every single year Aurora got a little bit better, a little bit smarter and contributed a little bit more. She brought a lot to the table.”
McLaughlin also liked Aurora’s uncanny ability to keep teams loose.
“Aurora always kept you laughing, even in practice,” McLaughlin said. “I’d call a time-out to come up with a way to win a match and she’d crack a joke about the way a fan was dressed or the clothes that I was wearing or that my hair was a mess. She’d always keep the game in perspective and had the ability to make you realize it wasn’t the most important thing in the world.”
Fittingly, they closed their Warrior career with a flourish as Sufka earned first-team all-league recognition in volleyball and second team in basketball, and Terry impressed Nevada 3A Division II coaches to garner first-team all-league in softball and second team in volleyball.
“It had a lot to do with my faith and my work ethic and just how I was determined to do my best that I could for the team to bring us up, and if it didn’t help the team, it strengthened me a lot and kept me working hard, no matter what,” Sufka said.
“Dedication and hard work had a lot to do with it,” said Terry, who will graduate seventh in her class with a 3.8 grade-point average. “Taking time to work harder to better myself, because when the team isn’t as good, you can still make yourself better by just trying to do the best that you can.”
Terry and Sufka helped guide the Warriors into the state volleyball tournament but shared the agony of another disappointing basketball season.
“In volleyball we all wanted it. We have a tradition of a winning volleyball program at Whittell, and we all wanted to keep that up. That was a game we could have fun with and still do well,” Sufka said.
But in their three seasons together on the school’s varsity basketball team, “double trouble” only shared two division victories.
“There were some games that were so disappointing, Sarah and I would be crying, but no one else on the team was fazed, and Sarah and I could look at each other and know what we were meaning – another terrible game – but we had each other,” Terry said.
“We did everything we could to get the team somewhere, just so we could have some success,” Sufka said. “We knew going into the season that this was our last chance. We were going to all the camps that we could and working as hard as we could for it, and when it wasn’t going our way at least we had each other to understand.”
Their basketball coach, Lindsay Wines, has the utmost respect for them.
“I’m grateful to them for sticking it out as long as they did and never giving up,” Wines said. “They’re going to be two kids who are really hard to replace, but I think for the kids who have seen them stick through it along with their hard work, they have set a good role model for the next kids who are coming through.”
When the flowers began to bloom and the snow melt, it was a sign for Terry and Sufka to blossom. It also was a time for the twosome to go their separate ways. Sufka basked in the glory of being one of the state’s middle-distance runners, while Terry carried the softball team on her shoulders with her power pitching and active bat.
However, Sufka’s final hurrah came to a premature conclusion with a torn thigh muscle a few weeks before the division meet. The 1998 state champion in the 800 meters was devastated at first, but she didn’t sit around and pout. Leave it to Sufka to find the positive in the negative.
“All of sudden I was done and I didn’t know my last race had been my last race,” Sufka said. “I had so many records that I wanted to break and rebreak and I had my championship to defend, it was my senior year and it was to time to just let loose and go for it. It was completely heartbreaking, and it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
“There was a lot of prayer and faith that got me through it, knowing that I was going heal and knowing I was going to compete next year. That was important for me to share my faith in an experience like that because everyone knows that Sarah thanks God after she wins, but when I’m down and I can’t win, I still have my faith.”
As the Whittell team captain, Sufka focused on encouraging her teammates and sharing her knowledge of the sport – even with the opposition.
“Sarah Sufka is simply the most amazing young lady I’ve ever known. When someone gets injured they usually want to vanish, or at least be excused from standing around at practices,” said Whittell track coach Dan Makley. “In track, where the meets last all day, they often stay away. This is understandable for two reasons: It is not fun to spend your Saturday not doing anything and it is torture to watch other people compete and win your events. When Sarah was injured, she checked in at every practice, before or after therapy. She went to every meet and kept our results book. She did a much better job recording results than coach (Anthony) Davis or I ever did. She timed, encouraged and supported her teammates.
“Most impressive, she prepared inspirational messages for every teammate every meet. There were even messages for the coaches. These were written from the heart. They helped me, and I’m sure they helped others.”
Whittell’s loss will be Azusa Pacific University’s gain. The NAIA school lured Sufka to its Azusa, Calif., campus with a track scholarship.
“Sarah is one in a million. I’m just ecstatic the girl is going to a school that wants her and in a sport that she’s going to excel at. She will go into that school ready to compete and they’re going to be shocked at what they have,” said McLaughlin, who served as an assistant track coach at Whittell.
Sufka, who was scheduled to resume running workouts on Wednesday, can’t wait to begin training for track year-round. She’ll report for cross-country practice Aug. 15.
“I can’t wait to get down to Azusa and get my butt kicked,” said Sufka, who will pursue a degree in sports psychology. “I’ve always been the one who had to lead everybody out and push the pace. When there’s 20 girls ahead of me and I’m just barely holding on at the back of the pack, that’s what I’m looking forward to, because I want to be pushed.”
Terry, who hit .488 in softball with three homers and struck out 66 batters in 45 innings, didn’t use sports to settle on a college. She’ll attend Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and will walk on the NCAA Division III school’s softball team.
“I’d love to coach a Little League team or maybe umpire some games, just to give back the time and energy so many people have given to me. Even though sports won’t play a big part in my career, I’ll still want to touch a child’s life as so many coaches have touched mine,” she said.
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