Lehigh University was so eager to recruit Carli Sukonik for its women's lacrosse team, the coaches switched a planned weekend for potential recruits last year because it conflicted with Rosh Hashanah.
"Lehigh's understanding was influential in sealing the deal," said the 18-year-old Penn Valley resident, who will be heading to Lehigh next week to launch her college career. "I didn't know the coaches but right away they showed that they cared about me and that they were willing to help me out."
When she joins the Mountain Hawks, she'll have another major feather in her stick:
At ESPN's Champion All-American Showcase in July, Sukonik was ranked among the best of the best. The ESPN showcase featured 80 of the best high school girls lacrosse players at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Sukonik was one of 11 athletes to be singled out as an "All-ESPN Rise" for her performance.
When she stepped onto the field there, she said she didn't know what to expect.
"I have competed with high-level players but never as high level as the ones at this competition," she said. "It was a different style than I'm used to playing. Then, on the second day, I found out I was the leading scorer for my team. I'm used to standing out a little bit at the high school level but I had no idea where I would fit on the scale of ability. Realizing I was able to go in and perform like that was really exciting."
The athlete's success at the ESPN event might come as no surprise for those who have followed her lacrosse career at Harriton High School in Lower Merion over the past four years. There, she scored 335 career goals, breaking school records for goals scored in a career, scored in a game and scored in a season.
Sukonik started to play lacrosse when she was about 10 years old and, ever since, she has been a dominant force on the field.
Her father, Neil Sukonik, recalled that "it became clear from a young age that she never wanted to put down her stick. She would practice for two hours after school and would want to come home and have a catch. It was obvious that it was something that she loved and she was willing to make the commitment."
When Sukonik joined Harriton's girls lacrosse as a freshman, the team had never seen a state playoff game. Just four years later, the athlete finished her high school career with the winningest season the team has ever seen: 20 wins and a Central League Championship. She kept fans on their toes, scoring in the last 10 seconds of two games to qualify the team for the state playoffs.
"Everyone was very close-knit," the graduate said of her Harriton team. "I'm going to miss the other girls in my grade. When we started together as freshmen, there was a new coach, and the program has really turned around. It's going to be weird to play without them."
When she wasn't playing lacrosse, Sukonik was engaged in her schoolwork — she earned membership in her school's National Honor Society — and found time for Jewish connections.
She worked as a Hebrew school teacher for three years at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, where her family belongs. She has also volunteered, putting together food packages for the Jewish Relief Agency and cooking meals for the homeless when they are hosted at her synagogue through the Interfaith Hospitality Network.
She said that when she gets to college, she wants to connect Jewishly and will explore all the options, including Hillel.
"I like to stay busy," she said, adding: "At Lehigh, I want to get involved as much as I can."