Sarah Cullison started her sports career playing soccer and softball in the North Carroll Rec Council, but she liked the faster pace of soccer, so she soon switched from softball to lacrosse. Now, the senior is a top-notch defender for Manchester Valley's successful soccer and lacrosse teams.
This spring, Cullison has helped the No. 12 Mavericks' lacrosse team to the best start in school history, 9-0 heading into Thursday night's home game vs. No. 13 Century, their top Carroll County opponent. A versatile player, she has 11 caused turnovers, six interceptions, 19 ground balls and 12 draw controls.
Cullison, who has a 3.9 unweighted GPA, plans to play soccer at Stevenson while studying to become an elementary school teacher. Vice president of the Student Government Association and the Future Educators of America, she also helped organize Manchester Valley's Relay for Life, a popular American Cancer Society fundraiser.
What's been the key to the lacrosse team's great season?
Our team motto is "Believe Big." We believe big, but everyone pitches in on the small things like ground balls, passing, catching. We don't focus highly on who scored the goal. It's how we got to the goal, so I think because we include everybody in each goal, everyone feels a part of the team and we really want everyone to do well.
As a team captain, what's your leadership style?
I am kind of goofy, like before we start the game, before we start our practices. I like to get our team laughing and get everyone to kind of come together, but on the field I talk a lot and when we get scored on, we come into a huddle on defense and we just talk about who's going to do what next time. I usually start if off and we talk it out instead of yelling at each other, because we've never been a team that gets mad like that. We try to fix it instead of blaming someone.
Has your role changed much now that you're a senior?
I've always brought the goofiness toward it, but as a captain I still have to be a leader. I was a captain last year and this year, we have three captains. Unfortunately, Kathryn [Piper] tore her ACL before the season started, so there's two captains on the field. Haile Houck plays midfield, so she kind of takes care of the offense if they need to do something and then I'm on defense. I think my role has stayed the same, but I just have to make sure that I'm positive, because I have to bring everybody else up and I like doing that. I like being there for them. I don't like to be a dictator, yelling at them, because we all have to work together or we can't win.
What did you learn about yourselves in last weekend's tournament beating Oakdale and Middletown?
We were nervous going in. We knew they had great records as well and we had never seen them before. We went in, did the small things and then we believed big, as in that we believed in our whole team and we just came together. We were talking a lot. We were shifting on defense and on offense, we wouldn't force it. We would shoot when we had it and pull out when we didn't. I think the teamwork was really, really great.
How big is Thursday night's game against Century?
That's a huge game. They're always great competition for us. We love playing them. They're always skilled in every position, so we know we're definitely going to have to play our best as well and may the best team win.
Why did soccer become the sport for you?
I have had success here and our teams have been really strong. We won states two years in a row, so that was great and I just think it's a natural sport for me. I usually play as the last defender and I like seeing the whole field. I like how it's really challenging to get a goal and when you do, it's just like, "Thank goodness we got the goal." I really like that part of it.
Did you want to go to Division III?
Yeah. I like sports but I don't have to play all the time to be happy, so I definitely wanted to go DIII and maybe relax a little bit sometimes, get to see my family a little bit because I'm close enough.
Why did you choose Stevenson?
I looked at York as well and I'm looking to be an elementary school teacher, so I think Stevenson has that strong program and it's a little closer to home and coach Graeme [Millar] is a great coach. I've gone to a couple clinics where you get to know other girls who are going or looking and he's just really nice. He's positive, he's upbeat and I really like being in that atmosphere.
Why do you want to be an elementary school teacher?
Our school has its own preschool program. It's a small class. It's about 11 kids and my junior year, I taught in the preschool all year and loved it, so as a senior, I did an internship at Manchester Elementary. I was with older kids, second grade, and I just loved writing lesson plans. I loved seeing them learn something at the end of the lesson. I really like working with the kids. I think they're a lot of fun.
Do you remember anything from your elementary school years that might have fostered that interest?
I think one of my strongest motivations comes from a second-grade teacher, Miss High. Sometimes I still see her and she recognizes me, too. I remember being excited going into her class every day. She always had these fun lessons and we learned a lot. I strive to be like her when I'm teaching and I think that inspiration comes from her, a lot of it.
What is Relay for Life?
It's the American Cancer Society's biggest fundraiser and usually it's outside, but because of the rain, ours was inside. You walk laps around the track. You can buy luminaria (bags with candles inside to honor someone who has been affected by cancer) which raise money and light up the track or you can donate money while you're there. There's food. There's music. There's fun laps. We had a three-legged race. It's four hours long and it's a big fundraiser for cancer. Our school does one every year.
Were you instrumental in getting the lacrosse team involved in Relay for Life?
I signed our team up and then I was actually planning the Relay with another friend in the school, Emily Hochheiser, with the National Honor Society. That's the club that puts it on, so we were the student coordinators of it. We do a Relay every year and our team came in second for fund-raising money. I believe we were about $1,500 or a little over. Overall, the Relay raised about $13,000.
Has your family been affected by cancer?
There isn't cancer in my family, but when I was a sophomore, I attended the Relay. I wasn't a part of planning it, but I had such a great time I wanted to be part of it, so my junior year I was a little more involved and senior year, Emily and I and a couple more adults worked on it together.
Who do you look up to?
Both my parents. They've always been strong leaders, doing the parent stuff — teaching us right from wrong — but also they come to all of my games, they're willing to drive me to practices even if they're two hours away. For being my biggest supporters, I can't help but look up to them. I'm really close with them. I love spending time with them.
What moment of your sporting life would you most like to live over?
I think I would like to live over the [state] semifinals in soccer this past year. We lost to Sparrows Point and I would love go back to that game, to have one more shot at that last game to see if we could pull out a win. They were a really, really good team.