It wasn't the first time Kristen Cannon felt a sharp pain.
A broken toe suffered during her sophomore soccer season required surgery. But this was different.
When she hit the floor of the gym, the Manchester Valley High School senior knew something was wrong.
In the late stages of the Mavericks' mid-February basketball victory at Francis Scott Key, Cannon had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Her high school athletic career was over.
But the most accomplished student-athlete in Manchester Valley's short history didn't feel sorry for herself. Less than 12 hours after she suffered the devastating injury, Cannon showed up at practice the next morning — and every day for the rest of the Mavericks' season.
She couldn't be on the court with her teammates, but she could be there to encourage them.
The supporting role was an unfamiliar one for Cannon, who was used to leading her team during a four-year varsity basketball career that began when she was a freshman at North Carroll. Cannon did everything for the Mavericks this season, ranking among the top six players in four major categories.
The Hampstead resident has also been a standout in the classroom and in her community — a combination that has earned Cannon the Carroll Eagle's Winter Sports Student-Athlete award.
Manchester Valley finished its third varsity basketball season with a 12-12 record, including 6-8 in the county. Without Cannon, the Mavericks would not have posted their highest win total ever, or finished in a three-way tie for third in a league dominated by Class 2A state finalist Century and South Carroll.
Cannon led the county with a 17.1 scoring average. She was also second in steals (4.5 per game), third in assists (3.6), and tied for sixth in rebounding (9.3).
On the way to a school-record 958 career points, Cannon scored a memorable running, one-handed three-pointer with no time remaining — a shot that sent Carroll champion Century to its only county loss of the season.
Options of excellence
"When I started playing in middle school, it was just something to do in the winter," Cannon said. "I never thought I would be where I am now with basketball."
Cannon's statistics don't reveal just how valuable she has been to Manchester Valley.
"I think she was the best player in the county," said Maverick head coach Heather Dewees. "No other player could have done what she did for our program, and she did it all with such a positive attitude. She really cared about our team and our program."
While Cannon's basketball skills have helped to build the Manchester Valley girls' program, her athletic presence is felt beyond the court. In November, she capped a standout three-year varsity soccer career by leading the Maverick girls' team to the school's first-ever state championship.
The team's leading scorer, Cannon tallied the eventual game-winning goal in the first minute of the championship contest against Brunswick.
"It was such an honor to be able to win it," said Cannon, the daughter of Terry and Carla Cannon. "That team honor feels better than any individual award I've ever gotten."
Now, Cannon must adjust to a different kind of lacrosse season. A four-year varsity player and also the top scorer for the Manchester Valley girls' team, she'll be on the sidelines with her teammates.
Cannon could have played soccer or basketball in college, but she has chosen lacrosse, the sport that has already earned her a scholarship to Johns Hopkins.
"I've been playing club lacrosse since middle school, and during the summer tournaments the whole sideline was covered with college coaches from big-name schools," said Cannon. "I'd never been through that experience with my teams in soccer and basketball."
While she'll play lacrosse for the nationally ranked Blue Jays, Cannon makes it clear that her focus will be on studies. And she's given a lot of thought to her career path.
"The No. 1 thing for me was academics," said Cannon of her college choice. "I thought if I could get a degree at Johns Hopkins and go into the medical field, it would be my best option. I'm thinking about biology as a major, but eventually I will get into pre-med. I want to specialize in endocrinology."
Diagnosis for success
There's a reason for Cannon's desire to enter that field.
She dealt with physical adversity long before her knee injury. While in the eighth grade at North Carroll Middle School, Cannon was diagnosed with diabetes.
"It's a lot of work keeping my blood sugar level up, especially with playing sports," Cannon said. "It can be a full-time job. Ever since I was diagnosed, I've grown more passionate about telling kids they can live with it. I don't have to think about it as much anymore.
"But it's been different. My mom likes to shove sugar anywhere she can, and one time I had a juice box explode in my backpack. I always have sugar everywhere."
Dewees, who was an assistant at North Carroll during Cannon's freshman basketball season, said there have been many times when Cannon had to check her blood sugar during games, but it never fazed her.
"Kristen is strong, mentally and physically, and very flexible," she said.
"It doesn't surprise me that Kristen will go into medicine," Dewees said. "She's competitive, and this is her way to fight the disease."
One of the top students in Manchester Valley's senior class, Cannon has earned a 4.3 weighted grade point average. She loves a challenge in the classroom, taking 17 honors courses and five Advanced Placement classes in her four years of high school.
A National Honor Society member and an Academic All-American, Cannon has earned a place on the school's Distinguished Honor Roll.
"I'm so competitive, and that's helped me with my academics," said Cannon, whose unweighted GPA is 3.9. "I never wanted the kid next to me to get a better grade, and so I've always wanted to get all As. ... And my parents have always drilled in my head that I'm a student first."
Competition and compassion
Cannon has also put up another impressive number off the court and field — the Maverick senior has accumulated an astounding 312 service hours, helping out in her school and community.
Many of those hours have been spent teaching youngsters at basketball and lacrosse clinics. Cannon has served as an instructor and coach at the Hooked on Hoops basketball camp, and also lent her basketball knowledge to the North Carroll Recreation Council's girls' basketball clinics.
She has also volunteered as an instructor at the lacrosse clinics run by the Check-Hers organization.
Working with her Check-Hers teammates, Cannon served meals at local soup kitchens and coordinated a team for the Step-Out Walk for Diabetes fundraiser in Frederick. As a member of LifePoint Church, she served food to the homeless at the Westminster-based Shepherd's Staff.
She even taught lessons on recycling to students at Ebb Valley Elementary School on Earth Day. She taught a lesson on poverty to freshmen at Manchester Valley, then helped the group organize more than 100 care packages that were delivered to Shepherd's Staff.
"We taught them about how our country differs from other countries, and correlated it to our community," Cannon said. "We wanted to show the kids that it isn't just other countries that have poverty. We have it right here in Manchester."
That selfless attitude distinguishes Cannon from so many other high school athletes, and non-athletes.
"She gave up a paid baby sitting job to volunteer at our summer basketball camp," Dewees said. "Kristen's a very giving person, and sitting around doesn't even enter her mind.
In a few months, Cannon will graduate from Manchester Valley, then head to Hopkins.
She knows there will be sadness in the leaving the school and the programs she has helped establish, but is grateful for her chance to make an impact at her high school.
"I was shocked that I even had the opportunity to do any of this," Cannon said. "I feel like I know everyone, and we're closer here than we were in that one year at North Carroll.
"I feel comfort in being here," she said. "Everyone wants to help."
"I can only hope that another kid like Kristen Cannon walks through these doors," Dewees said. "She has set the bar for student-athletes at our school. You can learn a lot of life lessons just by watching what she's gone through."
About this award
Since the fall of 2007, The Eagle has presented this award to a Carroll County student-athlete at the conclusion of the fall, winter, and spring sports seasons. The publication also presents an overall Student-Athlete of the Year award at the end of the school year.
All student-athletes who compete at the varsity level for a Carroll public school are eligible for the award, which is based on academic achievement, athletic achievement, and a record of service and citizenship in the school and community.