Ones to watch: Top high school athletes have what it takes

They started young and worked hard, and now comes the pay-off. The following local youth athletes are setting local records and looking to the future with an eye on competing at higher levels. Keep an eye on these five— chances are they'll go far on the field (or in the pool) and off.



Hannah Harper, Albemarle High School senior-

     Hannah Harper comes from a family of swimmers. Both her older sister Holly and her younger brother Hogan swim competitively and have excelled in the pool from young ages. Hannah's been in the water since she was five years old, and five years ago— when she was just 12— she told The Hook that she'd do whatever it took to compete nationally. It appears she meant it, as she's racking up national competition experience. For Harper, there are no tricks or secrets to her ever-growing accomplishments. "It just takes time, hard work, goals, and dedication," she says.
     Right now, her goals are to eventually final at the NCAA Championships and to make the 2016 Olympic Trials. She's had to sacrifice a big chunk of her social life to accomplish this much, but Harper says it's rewarding to know how far she's come and have proof that the time and commitment have paid off. She adds, "Getting to swim with and meet Olympians such as Michael Phelps doesn't hurt either."

Chris Thurston, Charlottesville High School senior-
     Chris Thurston is the Black Knights' star running back, after getting an early start at age eight for the Black Knights youth league. In 2012, Thurston was selected as the Charlottesville Football team's offensive player of the year, an achievement he doesn't chalk up to luck. "You have to want to be on top, and you also have to have a mind set of greatness," says Thurston.
     The competition among elite players is fierce, he says, and requires focus: "Everyone is shooting for greatness and to be on top."
While he aims to play college ball, he's got other dreams too. He plans to major in Sports Medicine and says it will be great to look back at his youth and high school sports success. "Being where I am today in football," he says, "tells me that I can go even further if I put my mind to it." 

Anna Sumpter, Western Albemarle High School sophomore-

     Anna Sumpter is only an incoming sophomore, but she's shown time and again that she can perform like any seasoned senior. She's been playing soccer since she was eight years old, and keeping busy as center defender on the Olympic Development Program (ODP), a statewide program that grooms the top players for higher level competition, midfielder for the local SOCA organization, and outside forward at Western Albemarle.

"Being successful is all about setting the bar to the highest level you're capable of instead of just playing to the level of everyone else," says Sumpter.
     She's hoping to play at a Division I college, while and keeping her long range goal in mind— to play for the national women's team.

Like all successful athletes, Sumpter has had to forgo activities that other students get to do in their free time, but she says there's a silver lining to all her travels. "I've met some amazing coaches and players from all over," she says. "They've each added a new dimension to my game, helping me to develop and grow as a player." 

Forrest White, Western Albemarle High School senior-
     Forrest White started playing soccer when he was five years old and made Western's Varsity soccer team when he was only a freshman, earning first team all-district, second team all-region, and third team all-state honors. He beat the Western Albemarle single season record for most goal assists and, in his sophomore year, White was named Jefferson district player of the year. He says he keeps improving on the field by "playing as much as possible and against older and better competition."
     White is attending Virginia Tech in 2014 with hopes of contributing to a competitive and successful team. He also has goals of playing professionally after college. He mentioned the pressure he's often under to never make a mistake, but he adds, "Competing at a high level makes you a much better player and it shows you the level you have to be at in order to achieve your goals."

Eric Buhle, St. Anne’s Belfield junior-

Eric Buhle started playing lacrosse in third grade as a midfielder with the YMCA. Since then, he's switched positions and is now star goalie at S.T.A.B. He says he couldn't have achieved so much without the help of others.

"Coach Rodney Rullman and his son Nate have worked countless hours with me year-round to hone my fundamental skills and prepare me for the hardest shots that I will see at the high school level," says White, who also gives props to the steadfast defenders in front of him on the field.

His current goal is to continue working hard to help St. Anne's win the State Championship game, and eventually dreams of playing for a Division I team in the NCAA Championship Tournament. To get there, he says he has to keep his expectations high.

"As you play with and against players that keep getting better and better," says White, "you have to keep up with their skill level and push yourself to be even better than they are so you can meet your own expectations."