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Sadie Rynestad is the 2014 Fauquier Times Liberty Girls Athlete of the Year

Wednesday, Jul. 16 | By Peter Brewington
Sadie Rynestad played softball and volleyball for Liberty. --Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
Concussion has become a common term in the American sports vernacular. They're being diagnosed and treated like never before, with awareness at at an all-time high.

When Liberty High softball center fielder Sadie Rynestad suffered a rough tumble diving for a ball against Fauquier High, she wanted to hide its after effects – she really did – before a responsible chemistry teacher made her report to school athletic trainer Mandy Carter.

Her headache and diagnosed concussion subtracted a few weeks out of her softball senior year, but did not deprive her of her place in history as a four-year softball starter and three-year volleyball starter.

Rynestad, who will play softball at Christopher Newport University, is Fauquier Times 2014 Liberty High Girls Athlete of the Year.

A smart, responsible honor roll student, Rynestad looks back on the incident with typical refreshing honesty, happy it's over.

She remembers it in graphic detail, and seems pleased she has a great story to share.

“I dove the hardest I ever dove. I tried to reach for it. I didn’t get the ball and whiplashed my head. I thought when I got up, ‘Whoa.’ My eyes went black for a second, then I picked up the ball and threw it in. A couple days later I felt the impact of it. I had a headache that would not go away, and trouble with depth perception."

She continued, "I didn't want to tell anybody.. I was talking about it in chemistry class and I tried to pick up a pencil and missed it. It was weird. It looked out of focus. My teacher heard me talking and said that if don't tell (athletic trainer) coach Carter, 'I'm gonna tell her."

The incident was part of an eventful 12-month stretch in Rynestad's life that dates back to the spring and summer of 2013 when her college softball future was causing her considerable consternation.

When she was 10, softball became pretty much everything for Rynestad, who got channeled into an elite travel team and experienced phenomenal success when the team, Manassas Blaze, won the 14U title in Florida. Rynestad was only 12.

From that moment on, Rynestad yearned to play NCAA Division I softball and, specifically, to earn a scholarship. She took her junior year off from volleyball to attend showcase tournaments and focus on her college softball plans.

Rynestad played well at one camp at George Mason University, came home and “our computer was on fire,” said her mom Rene'.

Georgetown, Longwood, George Mason, George Washington responded favorably, and other schools were in the mix.

Things were going great at Liberty, too. She earned a starting spot in center field as a freshman, and ended up hitting .430.

She hit .480 as a sophomore as the Eagles made the regionals to end a long drought. She hit .500 as a junior.

LHS coach Charlie Padgett praised her speed, superb defense and consistent hitting. As a senior Rynestad hit .344 (21-of-61) with a .460 on-base percentage and .525 slugging percentage. She scored 13 runs and had 13 RBI and was named first team all-Conference 22.

"She was wonderful, a hard one to replace," said Padgett, whose team advanced to regionals with a huge upset of King George in the Conference 22 semifinals.

"We were so pumped that game" said Rynestad of the King George upset. "We had a lot of energy. We kept hitting. We were so surprised too. We did not see it coming, they did not see it coming. We were on the bus singing (on the way home)."

In volleyball, Rynestad emerged as a key player as a freshman and sophomore, before taking off her junior volleyball year to focus on her softball recruiting.

But she was soon to get a shock, and we're not talking about the concussion.

College recruiting crisis

You’ve heard of a Sadie Hawkins dance where girls invite boys to be their date? Rynestad’s college decision ended up being like that.

She ended up having to ask NCAA Division III Christopher Newport to be her partner last summer when her Division I recruiting dreams burst like a water balloon on hot pavement.

As the process played out, Rynestad had become convinced she wanted to play for Coastal Carolina in Conway, S.C.

When Coastal gave its last partial to another girl, telling Rynestad she could be a walk-on, the Eagle junior was heartbroken, tearful and at a loss about what to do.

“I had all these colleges talking to me, but I put all my eggs in one basket and stopped talking to other coaches,” she said.

Faced with a crisis, she was depressed, moping and shattered.

Although she was only a junior, and had time to consider her options, it looked quite possible she would not play college softball at any level, she was that dejected.

Her mother was upset as well.

Rene' Rynestad, who had coached her daughter extensively in rec ball, travel ball, and guided Sadie through the recruiting process, now watched in horror as her daughter talked about not playing at any college level. Rene' did not want to pay out- of-state tuition for Sadie to be a walk-on at Coastal.

“We were stuck. Her travel team had collapsed, and I said I’m done," said Rene' Rynestad. "I’m not paying for travel (ball) if she’s not going to play in college. I had a meltdown. I cried so hard. She sat for two or three weeks in August. She was done. I would not let her go to Coastal, and was burned out (on the recruiting process)," Rene' recalled.

But the dark period ended when Rene' suggested Christopher Newport. Sadie did some research, visited the campus and fell in love. She liked the computer engineering curriculum CNU offers.

Now she had to convince CNU head coach Keith Parr to take her — an ironic twist in her recruiting journey.

CNU is one of the top teams in NCAA Division 3, finishing as national runner up in 2011 and third in 2010. The Mariners were ranked fifth in the nation in 2014 and made their seventh straight NCAA appearance.

Parr is a top coach, winning numerous awards, and has built a dynasty in his nine years in Newport News. Although he encouraged Rynestad in their initial communications, he needed to make his own decision..

When Sadie and her mom went down to visit Parr, there was some tension. “He (Parr) said there was no room on the roster right now, and I said, “No, no, no,’ and walked away," said Rene' Rynestad. "He said ‘Wait a minute.’ He was scrambling, saying he had never seen her play."

Parr changed his plans to watch Sadie in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which was another mini-drama.

Rynestad hit a home run, but also struck out twice with Parr watching He told her to relax after the strikeouts, Sadie said. He returned at night to watch her hit another home run. That night, Parr called Rynestad and offered her a roster spot.

"I was so happy I could kiss a pig," Rene' Rynestad said.

Sadie was equally joyful and is working hard to have an impact, since she will be one of 25 players on the CNU roster.

"He gave me a workout list for this summer. I want to play. I don't want to be a weak link," she said.

It also allowed her relationship with her mom to move forward.

"My mom had more wisdom than I did. My mom knew how much I’d regret it. ..When I said, ‘I don’t want to play in college,’ she ignored it,” said Sadie.

Her volleyball side

Rynestad played volleyball as a Liberty freshman, sophomore and senior. She was team MVP as a senior, playing outside hitter.

The Eagles' 2013-14 season was successful at 11-8, but ended up with tears for the players when Liberty was upset by Chancellor one round before they were to play Fauquier in a Conference 22 playoff game.

At 5-foot-9, Rynestad was a versatile player who rarely came out of the game. In volleyball, due to rotation, taller players may get subbed out when they move to the back row. Not Rynestad, whose past experience as a libero and setter made her useful in digging balls.

"She would pop out of nowhere. and somehow get to the ball. She gave 100 percent to get to the ball," said LHS coach Lauren Bosso.

But Liberty's season-ending loss still torments everyone involved. “It was a big upset," said Rynestad. "I didn’t expect it would be my last volleyball game. It hit me hard. We felt we’d play Fauquier Wednesday night. We took it too lightly. When we lost, I cried. It was my last game ever since I'm not playing in college," she said.

"I love volleyball. Honestly, it’s the most fun sport ever, more fun than softball. I love it so much. I didn’t play junior year and it killed me. It was a decision I had to make to get recruited for softball.”

North Dakota accent

Rynestad's parents hail from North Dakota, and considered moving back to the Roughrider State of their roots when Sadie's older brother Basil was in eighth grade.

“We decided to stay for Sadie’s softball career,” said her mom, who explained that while there is competitive softball in North Dakota, Sadie’s development likely would have suffered.

The Rynestads moved to northern Virginia in 1986 after hearing about job opportunities. Dad Todd is in construction, mom is an educator with a masters in early childhood special education.

“We heard it’s growing. My husband and I went to the library and looked up Washington, D.C., in the encyclopedia and said ‘Let’s go,” said Rene'.

They’ve settled on 12 acres in Catlett. The family goes back often, but Sadie is glad they didn't move.

“I think about that. They barely have fast pitch there. I might not be playing softball," she said.

“Whenever I go there we see a lot of buffalo. My mom comes from a very small town. I would have walked to high school. They have a lot of mosquitoes, and it gets cold.”

- - - - -

The Rynestad File

Family: Mom Rene’ works in special education for Prince William County Schools, dad Todd is a superintendent for E.E. Reed Construction in Herndon. Brothers Basil, a former Liberty High football standout now attending Radford University and Caden, 9, a rising third grader at H.M. Pierce.

Biggest sports moment: Her Manassas Blaze 14U won a big national tournament in Florida, beating 200-some other teams. She was only 12. “We’d be at the pool, splashing around. Other teams would go to bed at 8, trying to win the thing. We stayed relaxed and went undefeated. There were huge crystal trophies for each of us."

Native American roots: Her mother is one-quarter Native American.

Car: 2011 Ford Focus.

Vacation spot: “Our favorite as family is St. Croix in the Caribbean.”

Favorite foods: Pancakes or artichokes. She loves to dip artichoke leaves in butter, or artichoke hearts.

Nicknames: "My mom calls me Lulu. My middle name is Louise. It can be embarrassing," she says.

Superstitions: Likes to be the first Eagle to slap hands after a loss or win in the post-game line. Had a pump-up ritual with best friend and fellow LHS softball star Leslie Bourgeois. “We’d pretend to slap hands not do it. We’d do an air five and then go into a handshake.”

Possible career: Computer engineer. "I like math and science. We need more women in engineering fields." Had 3.75 GPA.

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