By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Courtney Petrella isn’t the No. 1 scorer on the Cedar Creek High School girls soccer team. She isn’t the No. 1 option when it comes to getting a goal in lacrosse. She isn’t the most outstanding athlete on the winter track team. But there is one place where Petrella is No. 1, and it might be the most important place of all. The classroom. That’s right. Not only is Petrella a three-sport athlete for the Pirates, she’s also the top-ranked student in the senior class. That makes for some long nights after practice, and some early morning cramming in work before school. “It’s cool to be able to say it, but it’s really hard to keep up my grades. I find that playing sports makes it a little bit easier,” said Petrella, a 17-year-old Mullica Township resident. “When I come home from soccer I know I have to get things done. It’s definitely stressful sometimes. Usually I’m missing my lunch to finish my homework or doing something to make sure I get it all done in time.” While Petrella isn’t the kind of all-star athlete who is written about weekly in local newspapers, she is a valuable part of some very successful teams at Cedar Creek, and the type of player coaches love to have on their roster. She helped lead the soccer team to nine wins and a berth in the South Jersey Group 2 playoffs this season as a key midfielder coming off the bench. “She’s someone who is very good as a leader and is always rallying the team and getting everyone together. She has a way of talking to the girls to encourage them and she leads through example. She does a lot of community service and works hard out of school as well as in school. She always pushes herself to the max,” said soccer coach Megan Hallman. “She knows what it’s like to struggle but she just perseveres. She doesn’t know the meaning of giving up. She’s an awesome kid. Cedar Creek senior Courtney Petrella plays soccer, winter track and lacrosse, and also happens to be the top student in her class. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O'Sullivan) Cedar Creek senior Courtney Petrella plays soccer, winter track and lacrosse, and also happens to be the top student in her class. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan) “On the soccer team specifically she might not have the title of a captain, but she lives up to all the characteristics of a leader every single day. As a coach, it’s really important to have those kinds of students on your team,” Hallman added. “I always tell the girls, ‘you don’t have to have that captain’s band to be a leader on that field. You’re a leader by your actions, by what you say, and you’re a leader because you’re bringing the team up.’ She has that characteristic where she can bring everyone up with her. People follow her because she is someone who is a role model and the girls look up to her all the time. She’s an incredible young lady who I’ve been very fortunate to coach.” Hallman explained that being No. 1 in the class is a very difficult accomplishment, particularly for someone who is so involved with not only sports, but community service. Petrella volunteers her time at South Jersey Field of Dreams, which has baseball leagues in the spring and fall for youth with physical and cognitive challenges, and also helps kids during the summer with her mom, Tara, who is a teacher’s aide with the Atlantic County Special Services school district. “To be No. 1 in the class you basically have to be in the top classes throughout your entire high school career. So when she entered as a freshman, she was already taking honors algebra II and honors geometry at the same time. So she doubled up on her math the first year and then the next year she was doubling up on her history classes. Every single honors class she can take, she takes it,” Hallman said. “Last year, I had her in AP calculus. This year she decided to take AP calculus (advanced) as well as linear algebra. Most students don’t even get that far in high school. Most schools don’t even offer honors linear algebra. She pushes herself and does her best all the time. Whatever is going on, she finds time to balance everything.” “I’ve tried to excel as much as I can. Throughout middle school my parents always pushed me to be the best that I could be, and once I got into high school I realized I didn’t want to be that student that is only good at academics. I wanted to be well-rounded. I want colleges to see that I’m a well-rounded student,” Petrella said. “I usually miss lunch, so I’ll eat in the library while I try to get stuff done. But I usually get everything done.” Petrella credits her father, Tom, a sales manager at Direct Energy, with showing her the value of a solid work ethic. Petrella said her father started working in sales at Sears many years ago and worked his way up to the position he now holds. “He didn’t go to college, but he worked his way up. He started at Sears and worked really hard, and that showed me how hard work gets you where you want to go. I feel like he is a good role model for me,” Petrella said. For being just 17 years old, Petrella has the self awareness of someone much older. She understands that she isn’t the greatest athlete at Cedar Creek High School, yet goes out every day and gives her all whether it be at a midseason practice or in a playoff game. “I’ve always felt like I’m a leader because I feel like I’m easy to talk to, and the girls understand that I have a lot on my plate and I’m trying so hard in practice. I feel like that shows a good example for them. I love being a leader and have people being able to look up to me,” Petrella said. “I haven’t gotten as much playing time as I’d like, but I feel like I know when it’s time for me to play. Soccer’s been something I’ve played my entire life, but I’m not as good as I wish I could be, compared to lacrosse. But my coach tries hard to get me playing time and I’ve seen improvement. I work hard during practice to show her that I deserve that time.” Hallman said Petrella’s positive attitude definitely rubs off on the rest of the team, whether it be soccer, lacrosse or winter track. “We let her know what her role is on the team and how important she is, and she is a very important player on the team. Everybody plays a part, and regardless of how much playing time she gets she is still always one of the hardest working players we have. She’s always ready to go,” Hallman said. “I always remind the girls it’s your attitude and character that make you who you are. What you do is how people are going to view you, and how you treat people is how they are going to remember you.” Petrella, who wants to go to Clemson University and already has a provisional acceptance to the prestigious South Carolina school, said sometimes she does get stressed out and also realizes that to accomplish her dreams she must, from time to time, make sacrifices, something not easy for most high school students to do. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get really frustrated sometimes, but I feel like now, as a senior, I can handle it much better than I could before. I remember freshman year I was in all honors classes and thinking I cannot handle this. But now I can calm myself down better and be able to organize myself. I have it under control a lot more now because I’m so used to it,” Petrella said. “Sometimes, when all my friends are going out, I have to write an essay or something, but I never feel like I have to be inside all the time doing work. I know how to balance going out with my friends, but there are definitely some times when I have to sacrifice hanging out with my friends in order to get my work done.” Said Hallman, “She looks at any challenge and embraces it, then finds a way to overcome that challenge. Whether it’s a lot of homework on a specific night, she’s just very focused. She’s just motivated to learn and succeed. “She’s that rare gem.” If her high school career is any indication, Petrella is well on her way to finding success in whatever she chooses to do in life.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]