Sarah Towne has no room left for monograms on her letter sweater.
When she graduates from East Chapel Hill High School soon, it won’t be the size of her shoes that the Wildcats will worry about filling next year. It will be more a matter of having so many shoes to fill.
Towne will leave East Chapel Hill as its all-time letter-winner. The veteran golfer, basketball, lacrosse, field hockey and softball player will have 16 letters to her credit.
At one time, she contemplated trying to squeeze in some track meets as a thrower in field events.
“I like competition, and I like the adrenaline it brings,” Towne said last week, shortly after her high school career came to an end with East Chapel Hill’s 12-11 loss at Wilmington Hoggard in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association lacrosse playoffs. “It’s just what I like to do.”
Asked if any previous Wildcat ever had so many varsity seasons to her credit, long-time East Chapel Hill athletics director Ray Hartsfield simply said: “I don’t see how.”
Athletes who play a different sport in fall, winter and spring are not uncommon, and some high school athletes manage to earn 12 letters in a career. A few double up in one season or two. But 16 letters?
That’s four apiece in field hockey and basketball, three in both golf and softball, and two in lacrosse.
Towne, who turned 18 recently, earned her letters while maintaining a weighted GPA of 5.0. She’ll matriculate at Cornell next semester, looking to major in sustainability and environmental studies.
Towne has played five sports in one year: field hockey and golf in the fall, basketball, and then softball and lacrosse in the spring. She said that was a bit much, especially in the spring, because she felt she didn’t have time enough to practice both sports to improve.
“That’s one of her best qualities,” East Chapel Hill girls lacrosse coach Emily Sternbach said. “She is always asking questions: asking why this or that didn’t work, why she got a penalty on a certain play.
“We were in the our last week of the playoffs, and she’s a senior who’s going to play her last game, and she was still asking me how to improve.”
Towne’s greatest success came as an all-state defender with East Chapel Hill’s field hockey team. The Wildcats have won seven straight state championships in field hockey, and Towne played on the last four medalists, scoring two goals off corners in last fall’s 7-0 win against Charlotte Catholic for East Chapel Hill’s most recent state title.
“Sarah didn’t start her freshman year, but she was by far the best athlete on the team,” East Chapel Hill field hockey coach Susan Taylor said. “Once she gained confidence in her ability, she not only started every game but really never needed a sub. She was an amazing center back.”
Taylor also cited Towne’s leadership abilities as a team captain.
“She led by showing others how to put in hard work at practice and in the games,” Taylor said. “She also has a great sense of humor and was able to bond with all players.”
East Chapel Hill basketball coach Michelle Wood remembers the first time she walked into a gym and saw the then-ninth-grader Towne playing around.
“I thought: there’s an athlete,” Wood said. “And she was. And she is.”
Wood agreed Towne’s abilities went beyond playing ability.
“Other kids want to earn her respect,” Wood said. “They listen to whatever she has to say as a team captain.”
“She can tell them they need to work harder, and they all believe her because they know she will work just as hard — harder.”
Towne’s play on the basketball court was typical of her style and work ethic. Not the greatest scorer, (despite her career highs of 17 points and 14 rebounds in a win against Orange,) the 5-8 Towne usually was matched on the opponent’s best player.
“She’s going up against bigger players most night, and she outworked them,” Wood said.
Like most people who’ve seen Towne perform, East Chapel Hill golf coach Henry Essey has wondered how good Towne could be if she played just one sport.
“She was a very good golfer because she is such a great athlete,” Essey said. “She could be really good if she works at it.”
Good enough that she recorded a hole in one as a 16-year-old on the Peggy Kirk Bell Gof Tour.
Towne has no regrets about trying a bit of everything.
“People will say, ‘Imagine what you could do it you’d just focus on one thing.’ But I don’t want to burn out by focusing on just one,” she said.
Throughout high school, she’s tended to play team sports because she likes the vibe.
“You feel it in the warm-ups,” Towne said. “I might feel a little nervous, but I also get sort of a high.”
Ironically, the one sport she intends to pursue after high school is golf.
“When you’re on a golf course, you can be in your own shell, your own zone,” she said. “And in golf, there are a variety of shots, an infinite number of ways to play. You never get bored.”