Hard work + natural talent = greatness for Pope - Restoration NewsMedia (2024)

Hard work + natural talent = greatness for Pope - Restoration NewsMedia (1)
Hard work + natural talent = greatness for Pope - Restoration NewsMedia (2)

Every so often, a high school athlete comes along who transcends the moment and steps into history.

Not just the best from one particular year or even their four-years, these special athletes post themselves as all-time standards through their hard work, dedication, natural-born talent and a slew of other qualities and factors that make up greatness.

As someone who has had the privilege to observe and chronicle the exploits of high school athletes from Wilson and parts of five other counties for two decades, I can tell you that it’s never one thing that separates the truly great athletes from the pack but, in my experience, they’ve all shared one thing — a passionate work ethic.

Fike High senior Erin Pope met that standard and kept pushing her own on her way to immortality this year. Already one of the top soccer players in her age group in the state, Pope decided to take her intense training regimen for the sport into a new one — distance running.

The results have been legendary.

With little formal training, Pope dominated cross-country in the county and 3-A Quad County Conference on her way to a runner-up finish at the NCHSAA 3-A championship meet. But finishing second was still losing, so Pope fixed that during winter and spring track seasons. She won the 3,200-meter at the state 3-A indoor championships at JDL Fast Track in Winston-Salem in February then finished her career Monday by winning the 3,200 at the NCHSAA 3-A outdoor championships in Greensboro by setting a meet record with a time of 10 minutes, 51.45.

Pope leaves Fike as the girls record-holder in just about every distance running event and will likely be just the second girls soccer player to earn all-state three times in her career when the North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association unveils its all-state teams after the NCHSAA playoffs conclude next weekend.

Quite simply, Erin Pope is not only the top athlete in the area this year — as the Tom Athlete of the Year as presented by The Wilson Times — but one of the greatest high school athletes ever around these parts. That set her apart from other contenders, such as Beddingfield senior Asun Pender, Wilson Christian senior Lin Scott, Wilson Prep junior Rachel Key-White or Southern Nash junior Tylik Mitchell. All of them, who might haved taken home the 4-foot trophy just about any other year, share track and field as a common thread.

“There’s not many words to decribe someone like Erin Pope other than ‘special,’” said Cam Avery, who had the fortune to have Pope in his first year as Fike track and field head coach.

Indeed, Pope, the daughter of Heidi and Wes Pope of Wilson and the granddaughter of the late ENCSD coach Barry Pope, is a star in the classroom, too, with a 4.6 GPA and No. 5 class ranking. She will play soccer at Lenoir-Rhyne University, although she has no plans to continue running in college.

While Pope truly has natural gifts in both sports, it’s clear she has worked hard to hone those talents. She is listed at 5-foot-3 and 110 pounds on her NCFC 05 Elite soccer roster and it’s unclear if she’s even that big when one stands beside her. Of course, on the field or track, Pope just seems larger than life. Her bursts of “quality speed,” as Demons soccer coach Chris Mizelle described, make her a perpetual presence around the ball.

Soccer players do a lot of running in training and in games and so, it wasn’t tough for Pope to acclimate to cross-country running. The only thing tough was being able to find time to run, especially during the spring outdoor season. Previously, Pope’s NCFC commitment made it impossible for her to run cross-country but it all came together this year.

She said that balancing the two sports and school, while doing all three at a very high level, just required one thing she knew how to do: Work harder.

“Yeah, you just have to work harder,” she said. “When you’re doing one thing, you have to focus on what you’re doing. So, like, when I’m running, I have to focus everything on running and when I’m playing soccer, I have to lock in and really focus on soccer.”

Avery, who was a quarterback for the Fike High football team more than a decade ago, knew what he was getting with Pope when she showed up at the track in the spring of 2023. That was when he was an assistant coach in his first year at his alma mater. Her family lived right around the corner from his family and Avery recalled seeing Pope in the yard lifting weights, doing soccer drills and running, running, running through the neighborhood.

“So even in middle school, she worked like she was a collegiate player,” he said. “So she’s always had work ethic like no other and what she does now —practice is in the afternoon, but she does her track program in the middle of the day when she has time. So she’s really pulling double duty even though you may not see her practice. Like, I know she’s doing her track workouts unless she has a game that day or something, she’ll take that day. But other than that, she’s running 90 minutes in a soccer game and then the next day she’s doing her track workout and going to soccer practice. So, she’s a workhorse like I haven’t really been around many times. It is a privilege when you get around someone that’s that talented and works that hard.”

Hard work + natural talent = greatness for Pope - Restoration NewsMedia (2024)


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