---- — By far the toughest call I had to make while creating The Daily Item preseason all-star team was whether to include a particular freshman.
And trust me when I say, that in such a fertile area of field hockey talent, there is no shortage of difficult choices for this list of standouts.
When it came to this girl, however, there was compelling information in her favor that trumped the fact I'd never seen her play.
At the end of the day, I opted against including her. I figured, despite her credentials, that I'd be doing her a solid by nixing any extra pressure in her transition to varsity hockey.
Cassie Sumfest laughs at my discretion.
She joined a Lewisburg team flush with skill and athleticism, and helped thrust it into contention for the Heartland-I and District 4 Class AA titles.
I chose to handle her carefully, like C4 plastic explosive, but she was obviously destined to go off with an attention-grabbing bang, regardless.
"She's something I haven't seen before," Green Dragons coach Emily O'Connor said prior to the season. "I'm not the most experienced coach, but I know she's quite an exceptional kid."
If you're wondering about Sumfest's pedigree, the fact that she's the younger sister of former Lewisburg standout Rachel Sumfest only scratches the surface.
Rachel, a 2011 Lewisburg graduate, was a Longstreth/NFHCA Division I All-South Region Second Team selection at Virginia last season after tallying 16 goals (fourth in the ACC) and 36 points. She transferred to Drexel University, and, prior to the start of her junior year, she was named to the U.S. National Indoor Team.
Before Cassie stepped foot on a varsity field, she was named to the U.S. Under-17 National Team, as well as the U.S. Under-19 National Indoor Team.
In January, Cassie will visit the USA National Field Hockey Training Center in Virginia Beach, Va., to vie for a place on the U.S. travel squad that will compete internationally in the spring. She already has international experience, having won a U-15 silver medal at the 2012 National Youth Championship in China.
"Her maturity level as a player and a person is something I hadn't seen before from someone her age," said O'Connor. "She's a leader among her peers, yet she's super-humble. She works hard but in a way that's not flashy, just a quiet way of being a workhorse that's unique."
O'Connor recalled Cassie's whirlwind 24 hours before high school practice officially began Monday, Aug. 12. She practiced that Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon with the National Indoor Team before rushing to an afternoon workout with her club team, the prestigious WC Eagles. The following day, she was on hand at 6 a.m. to run a mile as part of Lewisburg's preseason "gauntlet."
"I've asked her, 'Are you sure you're not going to get sick of this? Do you still love the game?'" O'Connor said. "She is just so motivated -- an internal drive -- that it's full-speed ahead. She has goals and aspirations in the sport."
Before the season began, O'Connor said Cassie "naturally gravitates to mid (midfielder)" with her stick skill, quickness and vision. With the Green Dragons strong backs (including Futures Elite selection Maggie Harrison and Eliza Newlin) and established midfielders (including Clare Lesher and Haley Stanko), Cassie's presence in the midfield was redundant. So she was moved to forward, from facilitator to finisher, giving Lewisburg a devastating 1-2 scoring punch with Maddie Scarr.
Cassie responded with 13 goals in seven games (at least one in each game and multiple goals in five) over two weeks, helping the Green Dragons extend a nine-game winning streak that ended with an overtime loss to Selinsgrove at home.
"I always say she's a diamond in the rough," said O'Connor, "a once-in-a-lifetime kind of kid that is truly a gem."
And every bit an all-star.
n Scott Dudinskie covers field hockey for The Daily Item. Email comments or questions to email@example.com.