He was blessed with abundant natural talent and was discovered running in an eighth-grade gym class.

She was a perfectionist who didn't possess much natural athletic ability, but chose early on to do everything she could to make herself an athlete.

Those two different paths taken at the same high school spawned this year's Daily Press male and female Athlete of the Year honorees.

They are Lafayette seniors Seneca Lassiter, regarded by veteran observers as the best middle-distance runner this area has had, and Karen Castle, who captained the field hockey, basketball and softball teams while maintaining a 4.37 grade-point average, which ranked fourth in her class.

Lassiter earned a full scholarship to the University of Arkansas, which boasts one of the nation's premier track programs.

Castle, who played three sports all four of her years at the Williamsburg school, earned an appointment to the United States Naval Academy.

As a senior, Lassiter heightened the national prominence he achieved as a junior.

In March, he won the mile at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in Syracuse with a 4:08.6, the eighth-fastest high school indoor mile ever. The following month, Lassiter won the 1,500 meters at the prestigious Penn Relays in 3:54.5.

In his final state Group AAA outdoor meet, he broke his own record to win the 800 in 1:49.40. He won the state indoor 1,600 title in a meet-record 4:14.68.

He fine-tuned for those efforts by winning the Peninsula District and Eastern Region cross country titles and finishing second in the state meet last fall. His best time was 15:15.

Castle's achievements included earning all-Peninsula District and all-Daily Press first-team honors as a halfback in field hockey. She also led the basketball team in scoring (12.3) from her guard position. In softball, she made the all-Peninsula District second team after batting .467 and committing just two errors at first base.

Those efforts, coupled with her academic excellence, earned Castle Lafayette's Gordy Putman Award, given annually to the best student-athlete on a vote by all the school's coaches.

``One of the nice things about both Seneca and Karen is that they've remained humble kids despite all their success,'' Lafayette teacher and baseball coach Tom Dolan said. ``You wouldn't know Seneca was an outstanding athlete on a national level if you first met him in the hall at school.

``He's polite and outgoing, but their is no sign of the negative cockiness that you see in some athletes that have achieved the kind of success he has.

``Karen is a very complete person who has improved so much athletically by hard work on her own. Unlike Seneca, she didn't have a lot of natural athletic ability.''

Lassiter is most proud of the fact he earned the scholarship to Arkansas. He said it wouldn't have been possible without the guidance of his mother, Lillian Graves, and the coaching of Allen Overton, the one who discovered him in eighth grade, and Mel Jones.

``That was what all the hard work was aimed at,'' he said. ``There was no money to go to college without a scholarship.

``In elementary school, I was a fat kid who thought about playing basketball. But I thinned out in middle school, and Coach Overton encouraged me to be a runner. Without him and Coach Jones, it never would have been possible.

``That goes for my mother, too. She kept me straight and away from the streets.''