Female Athlete Of The Year / Theresa Wagner, Lakeside School -- Following Her Heart Pays Off For Wagner -- After Taking A Break From Tennis, She Returns To Net State AA Title

Undeniably it was the worst decision she ever made. She knows that now, but Theresa Wagner has no regrets.

Given a chance to repeat history, she would. Under similar circumstances, she would do it again.

Wagner would quit the Lakeside School tennis team again as she did 2 1/2 months ago when she told Coach Evan Hundley: "My priorities have changed. I'm leaving the team. I'm sorry."

Wagner, the Seattle Times' City female prep athlete of the year, said she wanted to concentrate solely on soccer, her true love.

She wanted to play for a local team, on which the area's best under-17 soccer players compete year-round. She wanted to spend more time doing her homework and being with her family and doing things "that kids do."

Defending state champs

Hundley didn't argue with the 16-year-old sophomore, although he sensed she was making a big mistake. Paired with teammate Meghan Gould, Wagner finished second in the Class AA girls state tennis tournament last year and they were clearly the favorites this season.

Lakeside, the defending Metro League and state champion, would have little chance of retaining its titles without Wagner.

"I wanted to say, `Hey, do you know what you're doing? Do you know what you're giving up?' " Hundley said. "But it was her decision. Hers to make . . . She said she wasn't quite as focused at tennis practice. I told her if she changed her mind, to come back. And that was that. I just wasn't sure if she'd come back, though."

Although he disagreed, Hundley understood why she would follow the recent trend of many star prep athletes to focus on a single sport.

Top soccer scorer

Wagner led the Metro League in scoring with 25 goals and was voted the Most Valuable Player by league soccer coaches. She led the Lions to the state tournament, where they lost in the first round 6-2 to Gig Harbor. She is considered one of the top 10 players in the state.

However, none of that seemed to matter in the days after her conversation with Hundley, which she called "the hardest times of my life." She felt like a traitor to her ex-teammates and had difficulty walking past them in the school's halls. They remained friends, but they were not as close.

After school when Gould and the other Lions went to practice, Wagner went home. Hearing news, both good and bad, of Lakeside tennis tore at her soul. It depressed her when the Lions lost. It hurt even more when they won.

In the end, her month-long absence from tennis renewed her love for the game, and as unexpectedly as she left, she returned.

From the heart

"Out of the blue I get this phone call, `Evan, I want to come back,' " Hundley said. "It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had. The way she said it. The spark. It was something that came from the heart."

Wagner returned, not better than ever and not even quite as good, but she was happy to be back.

"It wasn't really that hard," Wagner said. "I was worried if there would be some tension because I returned at No. 2 singles. But I didn't hear anything. Everyone seemed to be glad. I know I was."

However, her timing was off. She was slower than before. She tired quickly. She pressed and became frustrated.

"We talked about having patience," Hundley said. "It took a few games to get the rust off."

State champions

Wagner credits her doubles partner, Gould, for "carrying me until I got on track." They lost just one set and won three tournament titles in as many weeks. Last weekend, they breezed to a championship at the Class AA state tournament in Tacoma.

"I'm so grateful that I played tennis," Wagner said. "It was the best decision I've ever made."

Lakeside Athletic Director Sandy Schneider called both of Wagner's decisions courageous. After talking to Schneider, Wagner chose to leave the Lions' tennis team.

"Basically, she got my permission to do what she wanted to do," Schneider said. "When she chose to come back, it was all her and for all the right reasons."

Schneider coached Wagner in basketball, where she averaged 10 points per game and led the Lions in rebounding with eight per game. Lakeside advanced to the state tournament for the 10th consecutive year.

Wagner's versatility is what sets her apart from other talented athletes.

Wagner suggested that basketball was her weakest sport, but Schneider disagreed.

"A lot of kids won't take the type of risk that she has," Schneider said. "She is a brilliant soccer player, that's easy to see, but she played basketball, a sport she's not that comfortable with.

"That's what makes her so great. She'll put herself in those situations and is willing to take responsibility for the outcome of a game . . . She may call basketball her weakest sport, but it's probably the one where she will grow the most and learn the most about herself." ----------------------------------------------------------------- Theresa Wagner/bio

High school: Lakeside School. Sports: Soccer, basketball, tennis. Year: Sophomore. Honors/highlights: Won the Class AA girls state title with tennis doubles partner Meghan Gould. Voted the Metro League Most Valuable Soccer Player after leading the league in scoring with 25 goals. Led the Lions to second place in the Metro soccer tournament and a first-round appearance in the state tournament. Averaged 10 points per game for Lions' basketball team and led team with eight rebounds per game. Helped Lakeside return to the state tournament for a 10th consecutive year. Hobbies: Homework, photography. Personal: Born Aug. 31, 1978 in Seattle. She has two younger sisters, Nicole and Janna, and younger brother Sean. Resides in Edmonds. Favorite sport: Soccer.

College expectations: Would like to stay close to home. Her short list includes the University of Washington and Stanford. ----------------------------------------------------------------- PREP ATHLETES OF THE YEAR

The Seattle Times selects female and male high-school athletes of the year in each circulation area at the end of each school year. Today, the female athletes of the year.

City - Theresa Wagner, Lakeside, sophomore, soccer, basketball, tennis.

Eastside - Sarah Yarbrough, Lake Washington, senior, basketball, track.

South - Benishe Dillard, Kent-Meridian, senior, volleyball, basketball, track.

North - Milena Flores, Snohomish, junior, basketball, soccer.

Tomorrow - Male athletes of the year.