To excel in one sport at the high school varsity level can be a daunting task, with the always-increasing talent pools throughout the state.

However, to perform at a high level in three distinctly different sports, including being one of the finalists for Miss Maine Field Hockey, the state’s most prestigious honor for that sport, and winning a state title in outdoor track, is an entirely different matter.

Such is the case with Hayleigh Kein of Unity, a recent graduate of Mount View High School in Thorndike.

Kein emerged from a talented field of five standout student-athletes and proved to be a cut above the rest, earning the distinction as VillageSoup’s 2010-11 schoolgirl athlete of the year.

“It’s really exciting,” said Kein of the recognition. “There are a lot of good athletes and a lot of good teams that we’ve played against, so it’s a pretty big honor to be chosen out of so many of the good athletes.”

This year’s athlete-of-the-year nominees included Georges Valley’s Kennadi Grover and Jill Bradbury, Mount View’s Kein and Chrissy Larrabee and Belfast’s Hannah Hill. They were deemed the best of the best in Waldo, Knox and part of Lincoln counties during the 2010-11 school year.

While excelling at field hockey in the fall, basketball in the winter and track in the spring, field hockey certainly is Kein’s first love, which was evident by her play last fall.

Kein not only garnered All-State selection for the second straight year, but also was one of four finalists for Miss Maine Field Hockey recognition, awarded to the best high school senior in the state, regardless of class. A defensive-minded midfielder who facilities rather than scores, Kein notched five goals this year and assisted on seven others, leading the Mustangs to a berth in both the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and Eastern Class B finals. With Kein’s on and off field leadership, the Mustangs were ranked No. 1 in the region during the regular season.

In basketball, Kein led Mount View in scoring, pouring in 258 points, pulling down 57 rebounds, dishing out 43 assists and making 43 steals. In track and field, Kein nabbed an all-conference selection and won both the KVAC Class B and state Class B titles in the high jump.

But make no mistake about it: Kein is a field hockey player, and will continue to be just that as she makes the jump to college this fall at Bowdoin College in Brunswick. Kein also plans to try out for the basketball team.

Kein first tried field hockey in “second or third grade, when we were first allowed to,” she said.

“My family wasn’t into field hockey so my first question was, ‘Do they make left-handed sticks?’ “

Kein was disappointed to discover they do not, but was unfazed and quickly learned to master the game with her opposite hand.

“I had to learn because I can’t play reverse-stick all the time,” she said. “Since I’m left-handed I’m pretty good with the reverse-stick and that’s just my natural way to play. And I think that gives me an advantage over people that can’t use their left hand well, in basketball or in field hockey.”

While basketball and field hockey were two sports Kein thoroughly enjoyed as a youth, her spring sport could be found on the diamond. Not softball: baseball.

“I played softball in fifth grade and hated it, because I missed Little League [baseball] tryouts,” she said. “So the next year I tried out for Little League.”

Kein was one of two girls playing baseball at the time. She played catcher, left field and second base. Perhaps it was there where Kein learned to play at a much higher level of competition, facing against boys her age day in and day out.

“When I was younger I think I just enjoyed playing with the boys better,” she said. “It was a different sport even at a younger age. They’re so abrupt and they’re not going to hold a grudge about things. It’s much easier to play with guys than girls.”

While Kein continued to thrive at both field hockey and basketball through middle school, she first realized how talented she was when she made the varsity field hockey team as a freshman, a rarity for Class B high school sports and something typically reserved for the players that are the best of the best.

Not only did she make the team, but she felt on an even keel with many of the upperclassmen as well.

“I didn’t feel like the little freshman,” she said. “I didn’t feel outranked. I felt like I could play with the varsity players.”

Kein said most of the seniors were supportive of her as a freshman, particularly Lindsay Cronin, who was a goalie for the Mustangs “and really just took me under her wing.”

And from there Kein and the Mustangs became one of the KVACs most dominant teams in recent years, which culminated last fall when Mount View earned the top seed in Eastern Class B. Kein also was nominated for Miss Maine Field Hockey, which is a tremendous honor, particularly for a youngster from a small town such as Unity.

“It felt really special,” she said. “There are so many girls that play field hockey and so many really good players. I was just honored to be recognized for that. Even though I didn’t win. Field hockey isn’t my life. It’s a big part of it, but I do other things. Being recognized for that, even though my world doesn’t revolve around it, it is really special.”

Kein was a member of the varsity squad all four years not just in field hockey, but track and basketball as well, through she did swing down to junior varsity during her freshman year of hoops. Kein remembers her first game of her senior year on the hardwood quite fondly, as she tossed in 44 points in a memorable double-overtime loss at Camden Hills of Rockport.

“That went pretty well,” she said of that game. “Even though we lost, it was a pretty good game for myself. And we all played well. Camden [Hills] is a good team. Double-overtime in any game is a good game.”

While Kein typically has been one of the top scorers for the Mustangs the past few seasons in basketball, she never concerned herself with chasing the scoring glory in field hockey.

“When I was younger a scored a lot because I was a forward,” she said. “But I like where I am. I like midfield. I can see everything that’s going on and I can control the field. Other people really do want to score and for a lot of people that’s a big deal, and it is. It’s really nice to score [and] it’s a good feeling. But I’m perfectly happy giving everyone else that good feeling when I give them a good pass.”

Some of those goals and a few passes to teammates for scores along the way were set up by Kein’s tremendous ability to drive the field hockey ball. And drive it especially hard.

As soon as her baseball playing days came to an end, Kein found herself needing something to do in the spring. Track and field proved a bit of an afterthought for Kein, though the Mustang certainly had the pedigree to succeed.

“I hadn’t had a season off since second or third grade, so I couldn’t not do something,” she said of when spring rolled around. “So I did track. My dad was a really good distance runner when he was young, so it’s kind of in my blood to be on a track team. He also high jumped a little bit, but that’s really what I like about track. I don’t like sprinting.”

Kein thrived in jumping, hurdles and springs over the past few years, but kicked it up a notch during her junior season, earning the KVAC title in the high jump. Then, for an encore, she repeated her performance, wrapping up her high school career with a state Class B title in the same event.

Despite the lofty accolades in the high jump, Kein was more impressed by her finish in another event at the state championships.

“I’m proud of my high-jumping skills and I knew I could do well at the high jump, but I was actually more excited about getting sixth in the state at the 300-meter hurdles,” she said.

Kein did hurdles her freshman year, but took “a few years off” after suffering from knee bursitis. She then picked it up again this year as her fourth event.

After helping the Mustangs through field hockey tryouts and assistant coaching during the Coastal Field Hockey Play Day Championships in the preseason, Kein now is a student-athlete at Bowdoin College, where she will major in biology. Kein had her sights set on the Division III school for well over a year and is happy to be a Polar Bear.

“I really liked Bowdoin my junior year when I went and visited the campus,” she said. “Then I went and did an overnight with one of the field hockey girls and they were really nice. I just love the campus. It’s close enough to home, but not too far.”

Kein said leaving home would be difficult for a few reasons, such as going to an unfamiliar place and starting over with a new school, new team and new friends. However, she admitted she will miss her family the most, particularly her younger sister, Delainey, also a talented multi-sport athlete at Mount View. Kein said she and her sister are close.

“Family has always been a really big part of my life, so [I’ll] probably [miss] my sister [the most],” she said. “She’s been with me forever.”

Then, in that regard, perhaps, it’s best that home is not too far away.

Kein’s personal information

Age: 18.

Grade: Mount View High School senior (2011 graduate).

Parents: Bonnie and Chris Kein of Unity.

Favorite personal moment in sports: Playing under the lights in a homecoming field hockey game versus Belfast my freshman year. Mount View lost but It was the most exciting game.

Favorite athlete: Jenn Masessa.

Favorite courses in school: Anatomy and physiology.

Television show I never miss: “Bones.”

What are your thoughts on facebook/Twitter/YouTube? Good if used in moderation.

What do you listen to on your iPod before competing? Disney songs.

Favorite movie: “How To Train Your Dragon.”

Food you pig out on: Alfredo and Swedish Fish.

Favorite book: “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.

Hobbies: Sports, reading.

Vehicle you wish you were driving: Smart car.

Person you most want to meet (dead or alive): Grandmother on my mother’s side.

Most influential people in your life: Susan Piotti and John Donato.

Future plans: Go to Bowdoin College, major in biology and play field hockey and hopefully basketball.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by email at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.