Jaws dropped when Gardner Edgerton High School senior Cassie Wait elevated for a kill during volleyball season.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Wait, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who signed with Kansas and is The Stars 2013 Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year, would rise so high and suspend herself for so long, one might have expected David Copperfield to waltz onto the floor to explain his latest illusion.
Track season was no different.
On Memorial Day weekend at Wichita States Cessna Stadium, every eye in the packed house watched in awe as Wait sailed over the bar at 13 feet, 2 inches obliterating the state-meet pole-vault record and winning her third state championship in three tries by nearly three feet.
Ive been here 31 years in the district and followed our high school programs very closely, Trailblazers principal and Waits neighbor Tim Brady said. Cassie is the best all-around female athlete weve ever had.
Even with Gardner in the throes of Bubba Mania, a craze that swirled around Royals farmhand Bubba Starling, it was Wait who the towns young girls imitated in their athletic dreams.
Those girls lined up to get Waits autograph after basketball games when she often tossed T-shirts to young admirers and traded high-fives.
Were going to miss her charisma and her leadership, Brady said. She inspired so many young girls in our community. Girls would come to basketball games and now they want to be pole vaulters and volleyball players, because they saw Cassie Wait. She was our female version of Bubba Starling, and the kids all look up to her.
Playing for her father, Darrell, Wait led Gardner Edgerton volleyball to new heights, including back-to-back third-place finishes at Kansas Class 6A state the last two seasons.
She was The Stars All-Metro volleyball player, the Kansas Gatorade volleyball player of the year and was selected to play in the Under Armour All-American game as a senior.
For more than a year, Cassie, who also was a three-time all-league basketball player during her time as a Blazer, simultaneously owned the state-meet records for the pole vault in 6A and 5A.
Probably my proudest moment would have been winning state my freshman year with my brother (Kyle, a junior All-American pole vaulter at Kansas State), said Cassie, who also qualified for the state final in the 100-meter dash as a freshman before a nagging foot injury prompted her to give up sprinting.
As impressive as her athletic resume, Cassie is perhaps an even bigger standout in the classroom. She graduated No. 1 in a class of 324 with a 4.38 weighted grade-point average.
Finishing with an un-weighted 4.0 was a pretty big deal, Cassie said. It wasnt always easy having double practices in a night and then staying up until 2 in the morning to finish that essay that was due the next day.
During the fall, Cassie who also served on student council three years, was a founding member of Blazers Against Distracted Driving and worked with Natural Helpers and the schools Rise mentoring program only played high school volleyball.
The rest of the year, shed attend classes, head to basketball or pole-vault practice, rush home for dinner and then bolt to practice with the Asics MAVs, Mid-America Volleyballs elite nationally competitive squad.
It was a lot of long days and running on five or six hours of sleep pretty much every night, but I didnt really ever get tired of it, Cassie said. There were weeks I would be physically drained, but I never quit enjoying what I did. Once you stop loving something, whats the point of doing it anymore? But Ive never quit loving volleyball and everything that came with it.
Instead, Cassie, who said history is her favorite subject and Wuthering Heights is her favorite book, burned the midnight oil to keep up with her studies.
Cassie just has that will and determination in whatever she does to do it at a very high level, Gardner Edgerton athletic director Kent Glaser said.
Admittedly, Cassies social life occasionally was neglected, but she always made time for the most important things.
As busy as Cassie always was, I cant tell you how many times I drove by and shed be out there playing basketball in the driveway with (her 10-year-old sister) Kendra rebounding for her or playing some soft one-on-one, Brady said. So, shes pretty cool as a big sister. Shes just one of the best kids Ive ever been around.
Volleyball wasnt always Cassies first love. She started with gymnastics at age 3, which she credits for laying the foundation for her work ethic.
It also taught me a lot about self-motivation and independence, because with gymnastics youre only going to be as good as you let yourself be, Cassie said. If I chose not to work hard in the gym one day, it would reflect in my performances. I grew up a lot early on from that experience.
Of course, Darrell instilled similar lessons as Cassies father and coach.
My dad taught me that you only get out what you put in to life, Cassie said. If youre willing to go above and beyond, if youre willing to spend the extra hours in the gym, if youre willing to sacrifice that time with your friends or go to bed a little early one night, youll see the results in the end.
To that end, Cassie became a sponge.
Whether it was learning the game of volleyball or mastering the pole-vaulting technique, breezing through AP U.S. History or struggling through pre-calculus and learning to ask for help, Cassies thirst for understanding proved unquenchable.
Shes always been the one who wants to go and do something new, Darrell said. And if shes going to do it, shed going to give 100 percent at it. The only thing I ever saw her hate was ballet dancing.
Whether its her disarming, easy smile or eager intellect (or even the hulking shoulders she uses to bench press 205 pounds), Cassie cant help but impress people even if shed never be the one to brag about herself.
Its not like she ever said, Hey, put me in the spotlight, Glaser said. Shes just such a talented kid. The spotlight found her.
Next stop: Lawrence, where she plans to attend the University of Kansas and pursue a degree in international law.
She also hopes to follow in her fathers footsteps one day as a coach.
It might have to be when Im a lot older, but, at some point, Ill definitely coach, Cassie said. I have so much respect for coaches and just know how much impact theyve had in my life. Id love to be able to give that back.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.