Ahead of the game

"At some point, Lauren Haas knows she's going to have to make some decisions.It is not a time she looks forward to with rapt anticipation.I know it's probably for the best, she says of the crossroads looming ahead of her. But it's going to be hard.Every student-athlete experiences the same thing Haas is facing about a year from now, when she ascends from Ridgetop Junior High to Central Kitsap High School. For her, though, the implications of the move go deeper than just more eclectic classes, tougher teachers and a new maze of hallways to negotiate.For Haas, the promotion to CKHS means she's going to have to leave behind an old friend. At Ridgetop, where there are four athletic seasons, she could play soccer, volleyball, basketball and fastpitch without conflict. At CK, however, there are but three seasons. Soccer and volleyball are played simultaneously in the fall.I like them both, shrugs Haas, who captained the Raiders' volleyball team last year and brought her FC Kitsap select background to the soccer team. I don't like having to pick one or the other, but I guess I have to.Haas, who won't turn 15 until mid-October, is philosophical about the decision she's going to have to make. In a world where the glass is either half-full or half-empty, she'll look at hers as merely brimming, instead of overflowing.There are times when it almost feels like too much, she says of an athletic schedule that also includes, or has included, playing with the elite Diamond Dusters age-group fastpitch teams and running at the top level of FC Kitsap.Last winter, when my FC Kitsap team was in the state finals and I was playing basketball (for the undefeated Ridgetop team), it got pretty ridiculous, she says. I'd get up at 5:45 a.m., go to school, have a basketball game, then go to soccer practice, then go to fastpitch practice, and then go home and (do) homework.It's why I'm not playing FC Kitsap this summer.But the instant any of the hues of her athletic palette is removed, she misses it. Life seems a little less colorful to Haas when she doesn't have that whole rainbow of things going on.Sometimes when I'm hurt and can't practice (which seems to happen frequently, she admits with a laugh), it's like I sit around and wonder, 'What do I do now?' When I'm not playing, it's really, really boring.If the move to high school doesn't seem to worry Haas - other than the soccer-or-volleyball conundrum that will be presented to her at CK's newly remodeled front door - there's a good reason. For one thing, there's her 3.8 grade-point average, evidence that she'll be able to handle whatever they pitch at her in the classroom.But Haas has made an athletic career out of competing alongside and against older kids. For her, playing up is a way of life. So being a sophomore should be no thing.My first year playing basketball, in third grade, I played with fifth graders, she said. It's always been like that.Haas could play for one of the Diamond Dusters' two 14-and-under teams. Instead, she's on Dick Thompson's 16-and-under squad, continuing to play with older girls who have been her teammates throughout her four-year career in the program.She can play at this level, says Thompson. Sometimes, the younger age shows, but she's very mature. She bears down and goes to work.Going into a tournament this weekend at Federal Way, Haas was the Dusters 16s' leading hitter, both for average and slugging percentage, and had compiled a 9-2 pitching record with 67 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched.I think I like pitching best, says Haas, who also plays the middle infield positions for the Dusters. I feel like I have control of the game. I like having everything on my shoulders.So does Thompson.She's a competitor, he says of Haas, who has professed an interest in playing fastpitch in college, as far-off a prospect as that is. But she's going to have to make some decisions some day. You get to a point when you're going to three practices a night, well, you can only keep that intensity level up for so long.One decision that's easy for Haas is naming her favorite of all the sports she plays.It's really the one I'm playing at the time, she says."

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