By Brad Fauber
Coaches are always fans of their players, but Skyline girls basketball coach Jim Kenney is cheering extra hard for senior Shayne Clifton this season. And it's not just because Clifton can help the Hawks win games.
Clifton, a four-year member of Skyline's varsity team, has been plagued by injuries for most of her high school basketball career. Her sophomore season, Clifton tore the ACL in her left knee and missed the entire season. Last year, she suffered a hamstring injury during preseason practice and didn't return to game action until late in the season.
Kenney, maybe as much as Clifton herself, is hoping this year is the year that everything begins to fall into place for the senior.
"Needless to say, I'm rooting for Shayne because she unfortunately has had some injuries in the past that really hampered her development," Kenney said. "I was hoping at the beginning of the season that this would be a breakout year for her."
So far, so good.
Though Skyline (2-5) has struggled so far this season, Clifton has been a consistent bright spot, as she is averaging around 15 points per game this season, according to Kenney.
Clifton has steadily scored in double digits this year, but she took things to another level against cross-town rival Warren County last Friday evening. Clifton erupted for 25 points against the Wildcats and was a key contributor to Skyline's 53-41 victory.
For her effort, Clifton is The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for the week of Dec. 15-21.
"I'm hoping that will be the catalyst for where she wants to be and where we want her to be," Kenney said of Clifton's performance against Warren County.
Clifton was on fire from the start of last Friday's game, as she scored nine of Skyline's first 11 points to help the Hawks keep pace with the hot-shooting Wildcats. Clifton was forced to sit for most of the second quarter after getting into foul trouble, but that didn't seem to affect her shooting rhythm. She hit 7 of 8 shots in the game, including four 3-pointers.
"My shots were finally falling. It was a really good night," Clifton said. "My team brought it together in the second half... I'm hoping we can continue to win games. I'm confident we can continue to do better."
Clifton came up big in the second half for the Hawks against Warren County, as two of her 3-pointers helped key decisive runs in the third and fourth quarters and helped rally Skyline from a 23-16 halftime deficit. Clifton nailed a trey from the corner during a 10-0 Skyline run in the third quarter that gave the Hawks a 28-27 lead, and her 3-pointer from the wing in the fourth quarter gave Skyline a 41-30 lead with 5:31 left to play.
Clifton's effectiveness from the outside also opened things up for her teammates, particularly fellow senior Quinn Breeden, who finished with 17 points.
"Because she's developed that outside shot, it forces people to come out and guard her on the perimeter, which obviously opens things inside for us," Kenney said.
Although Clifton is relied upon to do a lot of the scoring for Skyline, Kenney said she is also an excellent defender who typically guards the opposing team's best player.
Despite the fact that she is one of the taller girls on the team at 5-foot-10, Kenney said he doesn't consider Clifton to be a post player, and Clifton said she has always thought of herself as a perimeter player.
"I've always been a dribbler and I just kind of wanted to play outside, because that's where I think I will have success in college," Clifton said.
Clifton -- who plans to study civil engineering in college -- has yet to decide on a school, and she hasn't fully committed to the idea of playing basketball in college quite yet. Her injury problems the last few seasons may have limited the amount of exposure that Clifton would've liked, but they certainly haven't slowed down her passion for the sport.
Even a slight tear in the meniscus in her left knee -- caused by bone fragments left after the surgery to repair her torn ACL -- suffered back in August while playing AAU basketball for the Potomac Valley Vogues couldn't keep Clifton from returning for her senior season.
"It is frustrating," Clifton said of her injuries, "but I love basketball, so I keep coming back."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD