Atholton's Jen Bleakney and Loyola Blakefield's Ryan Conrad each combined a fierce competitive streak with speed and versatile skills to become national-level high school athletes in one sport and standouts in two more.
Bleakney, an All-Metro field hockey player and one of the state's top middle distance runners, played for US national indoor and outdoor field hockey teams. Conrad, who scored some of the biggest goals of the soccer season and brought steady play to the basketball team, is rated the No. 1 lacrosse recruit in the country by Inside Lacrosse.
For their accomplishments, the two seniors were named The Baltimore Sun's Female and Male High School Athletes of the Year on Wednesday at the 49th annual awards luncheon at The Sun's Calvert Street headquarters in downtown Baltimore.
Bleakney and Conrad were chosen from a final Top 10 boys and girls, all of whom were honored at the luncheon.
"It was just amazing," Conrad said. "There were so many great players here. After they listed all the accomplishments of all these players, it seemed that I wasn't going to win it, because there's so many good players. But once my name got called, I was just exhilarated that I could be chosen for this prestigious award."
Bleakney said she was shocked when she realized she had won.
"I had no idea it was coming. I heard them say 31 goals and I was like, 'I scored 31 goals,' and then it was like 16 assists and I was like, 'That's my statistics," she said with a laugh. "I was completely shocked. I'm really honored."
As a field hockey player, Bleakney led the No. 12 Raiders to a share of the Howard County championship for the first time in nine years. A former US national Under-17 player, she plays for the national Under-19 indoor team that toured Germany in January. Selected to the USA Field Hockey Futures Elite Academy for three straight years, she has also played in Canada, New Zealand and China.
In the winter and spring, Bleakney excels on the track. This year, she won three individual state titles and anchored a winning relay. In the county indoor track finals, she set meet records in the 800 and 1,600 meters and broke a 34-year-old county record in the 800. She won both events at the Class 3A state track and field championships last weekend and anchored the winning 4x800-meter relay.
Conrad was instrumental in three Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships during his high school career, including one in soccer last fall. In that final, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win that beat McDonogh, then the No. 1 team in the country, and earned the Dons The Baltimore Sun's No. 1 ranking.
Also a key contributor to Loyola's basketball team, Conrad made his biggest mark on the lacrosse field where he was one of the nation's top two-way midfielders. For three years, he was rated the top player in his class by Inside Lacrosse. This spring, the Under Armour All-American scored 32 goals and added 21 assists to lead the No. 6 Dons to the MIAA semifinals.
This summer, both athletes plan to try out for US national teams before moving on to college. Bleakney, who will play field hockey at Syracuse, will try out for the Under-21 field hockey team. Conrad, who is headed to Virginia to play lacrosse, hopes to try out for the U.S. national Under-19 lacrosse team.
Wednesday's program included words of wisdom from keynote speaker Harry Swayne, an offensive tackle on the Ravens' first Super Bowl championship team who is now the team's director of player development.
Swayne earned three Super Bowl rings as a player and a fourth as a member of the front office when the Ravens won their second title, following the 2012 season. That's the ring he wore Wednesday as he talked to the athletes about having the right attitude toward the game and toward those around them.
He told them about his transformation from defensive end to offensive tackle. When coaches suggested he make the move, he thought he had failed. But once he learned they thought he could be a "great" offensive lineman, his attitude changed. He said he was essentially a rookie again after three seasons, but he went on to play 12 more years in the NFL.
"Trust me when I say that took some attitude, the right attitude," Swayne said, "but it's always the one that you can chose. … You must choose a positive attitude that will not only help and benefit you as you grow and become challenged but will also help the people around you that you can and will influence, especially as someone who has been distinct from other student-athletes that are not in this room today."
He also told them they will face failure, but they should not let a defeatist attitude take over.
"There will come a time when you will fail miserably …" he said. "That will be your greatest opportunity to grow leaps and bounds in your personhood because it's your personhood that will carry your talent, your gifts, you speed, your strength, your smarts. Without the right attitude, without those characteristics that envelop a character person, your talent certainly is not enough. It will fail you. Expect it to.
"But never again do I want you to underestimate the value of being a character person who chooses to grab ahold of the right attitude no matter the circumstances — win, loss, it was on you, it was on your teammate, it was on the coaches. No. You take that thing. Trust me, your shoulders are big enough."
The other girls recognized were Bridgette Andrzejewski (McDonogh), Lizzie Colson (Manchester Valley), Elizabeth George (McDonogh), Olivia Gruver (Franklin), Sam Herman (Patterson Mill), Anna Mitchell (Centennial), Taylor Murray (Annapolis Area Christian), Dionna White (Milford Mill) and Francesca Whitehurst (Roland Park).
The boys were Austin Bode (Liberty), Travis Chidebe (Meade), Wyatt Cook (McDonogh), Myles Martin (McDonogh), Robert Miller (City), Jelani Roberts (Gilman), Will Robinson (Oakland Mills), Will Schwob (Broadneck) and Connor Smith (McDonogh).
Zach Loewenberg and Josh Brooks, baseball players from Friends, were presented with the Hayley Milbourn Integrity Award for their efforts to create a special moment for an opposing player with autism.
With Friends winning 16-1 in the seventh inning, Mount Carmel coach Mike Naunton was just hoping to get Robbie Long an at-bat. The Quakers agreed and Loewenberg came in to toss a few easy pitches to Long, but Loewenberg and catcher Brooks conspired to make a few "mistakes" that allowed Long to not only get on base but to score a run.