NEW LONDON — Dynamite, it has been said, comes in small packages.
Carson McSorley may stand just 5-feet-1, but she is a dynamo on the athletic fields, a whirling dervish of boundless energy, here one moment, there the next.
Take a look into the recently-graduated New London High School senior's eyes when she is competing and you will see the focus, feel the steely-eyed desire and determination that made her one of the premier athletes in the state the last four years.
McSorley hates to lose. While she certainly didn't win every time out, she never lost due to lack of effort or preparation.
It was that dogged determination, tunnel-vision focus and refusal to lose that helped McSorley have a memorable, record-setting career, earn a chance to compete for the next four years at Wartburg College and garner The Hawk Eye's Senior Female Athlete of the Year honor.
Dynamite really does come in small package, and McSorley was as explosive as they come on the athletic field.
"We have a lot of competitiveness in our family. My brother (Isaac) and I will just randomly just race sometimes in the yard. Even when we were younger we were always in the yard playing catch and running around and stuff. I feel like that's where it all started. My parents liked doing that with us, too. They made the sacrifices every weekend to take us to tournaments. They would spend their money on ASA instead of on stuff for themselves or around the house. I'm really thankful for that," said McSorley, an all-state libero in volleyball, an all-state outfielder in softball and a state champion in track. "I'm not one of those people that likes to stand around and talk to everyone that I'm going to run against. I've never been like that. I'll talk to people, but not before a race. I like to focus in, think about myself and what I need to do. Any time I've been worried about someone else or someone in another lane, I haven't run a good race. I just need to worry about my lane and myself. I try to do the same warmup every time. I clear my mind of everything and focus on attacking the hurdles."
McSorley's drive and determination were not lost on those around her. It helped raise her teammates to another level, too.
"At the all-conference meeting in softball, her name came up and the first thing the coaches talked about was her desire and work ethic," said Duane Blint, who coached McSorley for five seasons in softball. "She had such a passion for playing and competing, trying to be the best she could be. Her determination to improve and get better every single day are what stand out."
"As a coaching staff we just loved watching her play. She had such a great work ethic. She gave it her all whenever she was on the court, whether it was in practice or in a match," said Maureen Heath, who coached McSorley for four years in volleyball. "She just had a killer instinct. She was a great defensive player. It was almost impossible to get a ball to drop on her. She was just very athletic and had great quickness and acceleration."
"Nobody outworked Carson. With her work ethic, she just outworked everyone. That's what set her apart from everyone else," said Paula Bliven, who coached McSorley for four years in track and three years in softball. "You could really see it in track. If someone was ahead of her, she was going to run them down. She ran with every ounce of her heart every race. She was so intense. She may have had a teeny, tiny body, but there was a little dynamo inside of it. She was nothing but gritty coming down that home stretch."
McSorley started playing volleyball in fifth grade. It took Heath just a handful of practices during McSorley's freshman year to find her libero for the next four years. McSorley had all the qualities of a top-notch libero:
• Serve receive passing consistency.
• Reading and digging.
• Relentless work ethic and energy.
• Hustle and grit.
• Consistent platform and passing technique.
• Serving prowess.
McSorley averaged 5.3 digs per game, served 94.2 percent and had 180 ace serves in 393 games over the course of her volleyball career. She set the school's single-season digs record with 702 her junior season, which was second in all classes. She shattered the school's career record for digs, finishing with 2,095.
Holy Trinity coach Melissa Freemeier, the second-winningest volleyball coach in state history, came up with a game plan against McSorley.
"The best thing to do was go where she wasn't, but she covers the court so well it was hard to do," Freesmeier said. "She was one of the best liberos in the state. She got the respect of our kids every time she stepped on the court."
McSorley was like the Energizer bunny on the softball field as well, serving as the table-setter and the inspirational leader for the Tigers. In her five seasons, McSorley averaged .362 with 124 hits in 342 at-bats, scored 121 runs and drove in 57 runs, had 18 doubles, one triple and one home run and was 65-for-68 in stolen-base attempts. She helped New London reach the state tournament three times in her five seasons.
Whatever her team needed her to do, McSorley did, whether it was getting a base hit, stealing a base, moving a runner along or making a diving catch in left field.
"I really loved softball because it's so laid-back. I think that's how it is for most softball and baseball teams. It's a really laid-back sport. We were all loose and had fun all the time. But when it was time to practice, we would practice hard. This year we did work in the offseason. We did hitting in the winter and I think that helped us a lot. Our batting average as a team was completely better. It really helped us. It helped us with practices. We focused a little more this year," McSorley said.
"Carson was always such a hustler. I put Carson at the top of the lineup because with her speed, even if she walked, she would steal second and get into scoring position. She got a lot of huge hits for us, too," Blint said. "The strength of our team was having Carson in the outfield because we didn't have power pitchers. In the long run, left field is where Carson needed to be because she could cover so much ground and she made so many great plays out there for us."
But it was on the track where McSorley felt most at home, where she left a lasting mark at New London and where she will ply her trade for the next four years at Wartburg College,
She placed seventh at state in that event as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore and third as a junior and senior in the 400 hurdles. She ran on the distance medley team which won a state championship as a senior, and also earned state medals in the 4x400 and sprint medley relays.
It all started with playing games of tag and chase at home with her brother. It included running the streets of New London for practice, doing what she could on what was left of a limestone track at the school until a new all-weather track was built last year, trips to Mount Pleasant several times a week with her father, Mark, to practice hurdles and leaping over makeshift hurdles in the gym during the winter months.
McSorley overcame all obstacles to become one of the best 400 hurdlers and middle-distance runners in the state.
"We didn't have a track, so Coach (Paula) Bliven had to come up with things for us to do to make up for that. Running on the roads beat us up, so she kind of had to work something out for us, which made it hard," McSorley said. "Not having a track was a setback, but it wasn't a huge setback because my dad would go with me to Mount Pleasant all the time to their track. I feel like I could have done more at practice with a track, but even if you don't have one you're going to find one to help you just the same. It just depends on how bad you want to get better, if you want to make the sacrifices to go somewhere else to get better and to train."
"She put in tons of time on her own to get to where she is. Anything she could do to get better, she would do it," Bliven said. "Carson thrived on competition. The better the competition, the better Carson ran."
Fittingly, McSorley's high school track career ended with a state championship in, of all things, the distance medley relay. It was a relay team thrown together this season, and with McSorley running the 800-meter anchor leg, she brought the Tigers home in style, arms outstretched in victory.
"That meant a lot because that relay team was put together just this year. We haven't had strong relay teams in the past, so it was definitely one of the best feelings ever knowing we got that and we worked for that. We knew we had a chance to do that. We had Camryn (Blint) who just went out for track. I remember talking her into going out for track, not knowing that was even in the picture. I told her it would be fun and we would have a chance to go to state in something. But winning a state championship? That was awesome," McSorley said. "Winning that my senior year and making it to state in softball my senior year, two things that I didn't think would happen, that was awesome."
"I was very, very impressed with her toughness, her commitment to excellence and her work ethic," Wartburg College women's track coach Marcus Newsom said. "I'm extremely excited to see what she can do at the college level when she is focusing on just track. She has the potential to be a national champion before she is done."
"Carson is the type of kid who needed a state championship in track," Bliven said. "That put an exclamation point on her career for sure."