It’s a rare blend of skills that Clarke’s Sarah Pate possesses.
Pate, perhaps best known for her success in the throwing rings during track and field, possesses the power that comes to mind when people think of throwers.
People don’t always think of the footwork that goes into being a great thrower, though. Footwork leads to quickness. Pate has quickness, too.
And, to top it all off, she has great hand-eye coordination.
It’s this rare blend of athletic skills that has helped Pate excel in three sports during her time at Clarke Community High School.
“Clarke’s going to miss her tremendously,” said Clarke head girls basketball coach Eric Zoske. “She’s a natural talent.”
Pate excelled in basketball, track and field and softball at a high level statewide and broke record after record during her time at Clarke. Today, she receives the first South Central Iowa Female Athlete of the Year Award from the Creston News Advertiser and the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune.
Pate was one of five finalists for the award from the 12 area high schools covered by the two newspapers.
“It’s an honor,” Pate said, “being the first and being recognized with this.”
Pate’s senior year followed a similar storyline across each of her three sports — a slow start followed by a big finish.
During basketball season, she averaged just 6.5 points per game over the course of the first nine games of the season.
But, after committing to go to University of Northern Iowa to compete in track and field, her play on the basketball court took off, according to Zoske.
She ended the season averaging 10.2 points per game, and averaged 11.2 points per game in conference play.
“Once she committed to UNI, she went from about five points per game, to about 17 points per game,” Zoske said. “She was a force. No one could stop her. She had two or three career highs down the stretch. When she’s confident, she can’t be stopped.”
Pate put a lot of pressure on herself during track season, and wasn’t meeting her own expectations for herself until the Drake Relays, where she finished fourth in both the shot put and the discus.
At the time, she said she never would have dreamt that she would be a Drake Relays medalist in the discus.
She went on to sweep the throwing events in rugged competition at the South Central Conference Meet and finished second in the shot put and third in the discus at the Coed State Track Meet.
Pate didn’t just finish strong in each individual sports season, though. She saved a big finish to her career with her performance in the 2013 softball season.
Once again, the season got out to a slow start for Pate, but once she returned from the Senior Spotlight All-Star Track Meet in Joliet, Ill., it was a whole different ballgame.
“The funny thing is, she started the year off so cold,” Clarke head softball coach Lindsay Diehl said. “She went on a run there, where every time she went up, she was getting hits every time. We went over to Albia right after the Cedar Rapids tournament. The Albia coach was like ‘Sarah Pate hasn’t really done much this year,’ and then she blows up for a .500 batting average for the season.”
Pate finished the season with a .532 batting average, destroying Diehl’s single-season Clarke school record (.420) by 102 points. She ends with a career .420 batting average, which is also tops in school history.
“It was my best season in high school,” Pate said. “I think it’s an accomplishment to hit over .500. That’s been my goal since I was in eighth grade, to hit over .500, so to accomplish that is a good feeling.”
And, she did all this while playing on the Class 3A state runner-up team. She was named to the All-Tournament Team and to the Class 3A All-State first team, while playing the designated player role.
Pate said being part of the first Clarke softball team to make the state tournament since 1995 is the athletic accomplishment she’s most proud of.
“Usually somebody that plays in that DP role, or is just out on defense, is one of the kids that just kind of blend in in a lineup,” Diehl said. “Sarah was totally the opposite of that. She brought so much to the game on just one side of it. She was an impact player every game. Even if she wasn’t hitting gap shots for a double, she was putting the ball in play.”
Both Diehl and Zoske noted that people doubted Pate’s abilities because of her size.
“People told me we can’t play man-to-man because we had Sarah Pate,” Zoske said. “I don’t know what they were looking at, because from one end of the floor to the other, she was one of the fastest girls on the court. You knew every time on the floor she was going to give it her all.”
In fact, Zoske told Pate at the beginning of the basketball season what he planned to do with her rare blend of skills and size.
“I had individual meetings, and I remember talking to Sarah,” he said. “I told her we have good talent on this team, but we can go only as far as Sarah Pate can take us. She said there’s a lot of good players on this team. I said, ‘But Sarah, you’re unlike anyone else in this conference. You’re fast, you’re smart, you’re big, you’re strong.’ I told her I was going to make her first-team all-conference.”
And that’s exactly what Zoske did with Pate — make her first-team all-conference. She was also nominated for all-state consideration.
Diehl, meanwhile, said she’d just laugh when opposing coaches thought they had a double-play opportunity on the basepaths with Pate.
“I love when Sarah would get on first base and coaches would yell out of the dugout, they’d say ‘Know your runner at first base!’ She’s so much of an athlete. She’s skilled with speed. She’s smart on the bases. She wasn’t just a power hitter at the plate. She was a smart player. She’s definitely left her mark here at Clarke softball.”
Pate will be leaving Clarke Community High School soon in order to start the next chapter of her life, as a scholarship track and field athlete at University of Northern Iowa.
It’s a big step for someone who has taught herself throwing techniques by watching YouTube videos.
“I’ve gone to camps and watched YouTube videos,” Pate said about how she’s learned her throwing techniques. “It can be kind of confusing sometimes, because there’s a lot of different methods out there, but I just try to find what works for me and go with it.”
Pate will major in marketing with an emphasis in digital media and advertising. It’s a perfect fit for someone who loves photography and art.
She said she’s excited to move on to Northern Iowa, but at the same time, she’s going to miss competing for Clarke.
“Probably all my friends that I’ve played with,” said Pate about what she’ll miss most. “I’ve been playing with them since we were really young. Not playing with them anymore is going to be sad.”
But before she leaves, she’s doing what she can to ensure the success of Clarke athletics in the future.
“One kind of cool thing about her, before she’s leaving, she’s taking the time to teach Baylie Balcaen post moves,” Zoske said. “They spent three hours in Baylie’s driveway playing basketball. She fully wants Clarke to be successful year after year, and that’s kind of neat to see.”
Diehl said Pate has earned her respect for all of her success in athletics, but even more so because of how humble she has been about all of her accomplishments.
While Pate is going to miss competing for Clarke, Clarke is going to miss having Pate compete for the Lady Indians.
“Growing up, she had never really learned post moves,” Zoske said. “In track, she was never really taught how to throw. In softball, she’s kind of just a utility girl. How many people get first-team all-state playing DH? That’s crazy! She’s just one of those freak athletes. We’re going to miss her tremendously.”