Imagine the wave of emotions that sweeps through Christy Nichols every school year at this time.
The Arundel senior loves to play soccer more than any sport, but she has long since realized she is more talented in cross country.
It is cross country that most likely will give her a full scholarship to a major college.
It is distance running that some day could provide her an opportunity to compete against the top runners in the world.
There is hardly a day that passes by that someone doesn't second-guess her for playing soccer instead of running cross country for Arundel.
But Nichols has dared to be different in this age of ever-increasing specialization in sports.
She is following her heart that tells her to play soccer in the fall and take her chances on still getting that full ride to the likes of a Stanford, North Carolina State or Virginia Tech.
After all, the 5-foot-4, 105-pound Nichols still has found time to be one of the most decorated high school indoor and outdoor track distance runners in the state as well as being invited to the RTC World Cross Country Championships in Budapest two years ago.
"I couldn't stop playing soccer at Arundel because I've been playing with most of these girls since I was 5," said Nichols. "Soccer is a lot more fun than an individual sport like track because there is a lot of pressure on you to win in track."
Said Arundel soccer coach Paul Yannuzzi: "You have to admire what Christy is doing. Her dedication to soccer is unbelievable. She's a world-class cross country runner but loves soccer so much that she chooses it over cross country."
The presence of Nichols for a fourth year on the Arundel varsity is one of the primary reasons the Wildcats are off to a 4-0-2 start and are ranked fifth.
"She's quick, has an enormous amount of soccer sense, can run all day, is incredibly excellent on defense and when she sticks her foot in there she can pick a player's pocket before she knows it," said Yannuzzi.
With Nichols doing it all at center halfback, Yannuzzi said he has been able to move senior Kristen Smeby from halfback to striker.
That move produced instant results, as Smeby scored two goals in a season-opening 5-1 victory over defending Anne Arundel County champion South River.
Nichols has contributed one goal and two assists in the first six games and doesn't mind being out of the scoring spotlight.
"Passing the ball is my favorite part of the game," said Nichols. "My dad [Jim] has always been into passing and he has coached me a lot in club ball and drilled that phase of the game into me."
It was soccer, soccer and more soccer for Nichols until the ninth grade at Arundel.
That's when her brother, Jonathan (an All-County choice in soccer and indoor track at Arundel) convinced her to go out for track to "stay in shape for soccer."
"Then I discovered that track was my best sport and I've received a lot of calls from schools for track and cross country," said Nichols. "I want to do cross country in college."
Her small stature is perfect for running but has been a detriment in soccer, she said.
"I'm sure I'd be better at soccer if I bulked up but my track coach [Ralph Luce] wouldn't like that," said Nichols, who is also a whiz in the classroom with a weighted 4.19 grade-point average.
Nichols has received all A's except for two B's in her three years at Arundel, but has the 4.19 average due to taking honors and advanced-placement courses.
Having excelled in indoor and outdoor track (several state 4A 1,600- and 3,200-meter championships) and in the classroom, Nichols has one major goal left.
"It would be great to win a state soccer championship," she said. "We lost a lot of good players from last year but I think we can go a long way this season."