“Offseason” is a foreign word to Elyse Hight.
The recent Bishop McGuinness graduate began playing soccer while she was still a toddler, and took up basketball not long after. In elementary school, she added track and field, then high school brought volleyball.
She stuck with all four sports through her senior year, graciously declining the requests of a few coaches to choose only one. She attempted softball for a year, and had to turn down more than one football coach asking her to be the team's punter.
The years have been filled with overlapping practices of two, sometimes three, sports. Changing uniforms and eating dinner in the car on the way to the next game.
“It was always a juggling act with her school work, her club sports and her school sports,” said her mother, Nan Hight. “But it was worth it.”
Sports were always a natural part of Hight's life, and in that respect, she's the exact opposite of her older sister, Elena. The family laughingly points out that Elena met her physical education requirement by taking a bowling class.
Elena was her high school's valedictorian. Elyse uses words like “book worm” and “teacher's pet” to describe her sister — and that's where they're most alike.
Elyse, winner of the Bob Colon Scholarship presented by The Oklahoman and the Jim Thorpe Association to the top female high school scholar-athlete in the Oklahoma City area, finished high school with a weighted 4.1 grade-point average and 29 ACT score. She signed to play soccer at Notre Dame.
“I would ask her, ‘You've got your sports, you've got these other things you're doing, you've got your academic responsibilities; do you really need to take this AP class?'” said her father, Joe Hight. “And the answer was always ‘Yes, I have to take this class.' She always pushed herself.”
Elyse had some external motivation, too — both courtesy of her big sister.
“I always had to come into a class expecting the teacher to be thinking, ‘OK, that's Elena's sister, she's probably going to be smart,'” Elyse said. “Elena always stayed on me. She would tell me, ‘You're not doing sports if you don't get good grades!'”
In the athletic realm, Elyse's inspiration could always be found taped to her wrist. That's where she wrote two sets of initials, “M.A.” and “W.L.”
The first set was for Matt Allen, the father of a longtime friend. Allen coached some of Hight's teams growing up.
Nearly three years ago, Allen was diagnosed with brain cancer. Hight founded the Matt Allen Cancer Drive to raise money and help Allen in his mission to be the first survivor of his type of cancer.
“For him to keep being positive, he shows me that I have no right in my life to be negative,” Hight said. “I have no right to go into any situation without a positive attitude.
“I'm in deep admiration of him and his family for staying strong. He has been given the worst in life, and he takes the best out of it.”
The second set of initials represent Wes Leonard, the Michigan high school basketball player who made a game-winning shot in March 2011, then collapsed and died on the court from sudden cardiac arrest.
Like most of us, Hight didn't know him. But his story touched her deeply.
“He was just a normal guy,” Hight said. “He was playing what he loved, and suddenly, his life was taken away.
“I heard his story at a time in my life when I was just going through the motions. I had become placid in sports. I saw his story and it struck me. I felt such emotion for someone I didn't even know, and I realized that could be me. It drove me.”
Athletically, Hight lettered 12 times and reached state in 11 of those seasons. She qualified for the track and field state meet all four years in the shot put. She was the MVP of McGuinness' basketball state championship team as a junior, and was one of the state's top goalkeepers the last two years.
Hight was recruited in basketball and soccer, which was a hectic process, especially considering that for the first time, she'd have to choose one sport. It became simpler when Notre Dame entered the picture.
“I had my dream schools in basketball, Connecticut, Tennessee and OU,” she said. “And I had my dream schools in soccer, Notre Dame and North Carolina. Notre Dame was always the bigger Fighting Irish. That was the one place I wanted to go. It was No. 1 on my list.
“Our first game is eight days after I get to campus. I can't wait.”