STEPHENS CITY – Making the move from junior varsity to a varsity starter in one season can be overwhelming for most players, but it didn’t faze Ashton Clark.
The 5-foot-11 Sherando girls basketball senior thrived in her starting role last year and led the team in scoring throughout the last third of the year. Clark said the jump was a big move, but she had a lot of help from her teammates.
“ I loved it,” Clark said of last season. “It was different from everything. It was a much faster pace than JV or anything below that. I got to work with the seniors who were more experienced and were used to it. So that helped me adapt to it better. I thought it was good. In the very beginning, I was very nervous because I heard I was starting with four seniors, and I was nervous to go in for the first time. But it ended up working out good.”
Clark said that she thinks spending two years on junior varsity helped prepare her for the varsity level and helped her be able to adapt quickly.
“I think it was good for me, to help build my confidence and my skills, fundamentals to get those set,” Clark said. “And I think that really helped me to become better and more help on varsity.”
Sherando coach Mike Marsh said he knew as a sophomore that Clark had potential to be a strong player for the Warriors, so he wasn’t surprised at how well she did last season.
“She stepped right onto the varsity court and was very comfortable being a varsity player last year,” Marsh said. “It took her awhile maybe getting comfortable being a go-to player offensively, but once she assumed that role 12, 14 games into the season it was natural for her, too. It became something that she could do without even thinking about it. If the (scoring) load fell to her, she was very comfortable taking that responsibility.”
She finished last season averaging 9.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, two steals and 1.4 assists per game.
This season Clark is the team’s top scorer, averaging 14.2 points per game. However, Clark does a little bit of everything for the Warriors. She is averaging 6.1 rebounds, 2.6 steals and 1.5 assists per game.
Clark can play at any position on the floor, although she said she prefers to not play in the post. The versatility she brings gives the Warriors a lot of options.
“If we go small she’s our center, and she’ll play (against) the biggest player on the floor,” Marsh said. “If we go big, she’ll play a quick guard if its someone she can handle with no trouble. So she does a lot of different things for us. We ask her to handle the ball a lot. We get her off the ball so we can catch and shoot to her.”
Clark said she really enjoys shooting the ball and it’s something she’s worked on and improved in her game.
“I was never a very good shooter when I was younger,” Clark said. “I was always a point guard because I was always small and I’d pass the ball and get the assist. But I think I’ve become a better shooter recently.”
One of the ways she’s worked on her game in the offseason is by playing one-on-one against boys both at the outside basketball hoop at Sherando and at the Youth Development Center in Winchester. She said it’s fun to go up against the guys and see if she can beat them.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It’s not like too serious and it sometimes helps me with my game. They don’t take me easy definitely, but they’re not out there blocking every shot. Some of them are my friends and they like to show me that they are better, but sometimes I do the same.”
Clark said even though the team is different this season her role doesn’t feel that much different to her.
Marsh said the biggest difference he’s noticed in Clark has been her defense.
“I knew offensively she would be scoring this year, but her defensive game has picked up a lot,” Marsh said. “She’s not a great defender yet, but she’s a good defender now. Where before it was just offense and no defense.
The fact that she’s really worked hard on that has been a big plus for us because she’s so long and she just makes any defense we play a little tougher just because of her length and her ability.”
Last year Clark had plenty of seniors to look up to for leadership. This year she’s one of the leaders and Clark said that she tries to help the younger players out as much as she can.
Marsh said Clark sets a great example for the younger players.
“She’s a quiet leader,” Marsh said. “I’ve heard her encourage the team a couple times in practice and maybe in games. But most of it is just like follow me type things. She plays hard. We’re fortunate that we’ve always had girls in the leadership role that played hard. And Ashton plays literally 32 minutes a game. Unless she’s in foul trouble, she doesn’t come off the floor. And the girls respond to that. She gives 100 percent effort all the time.”
Clark is planning on playing basketball in college but said she is still looking to see which one will be the best fit.
The youthful Warriors are off to a slow start at 4-8, but Clark said she still thinks their best games are ahead of them.
“We’re very young and inexperienced,” Clark said. “So it’s taken much longer than it would for an experienced team. And I think it’s taking longer than anyone expected even with our (inexperienced) team. But I think we’re getting there. And I think it will come along – hopefully by the end of the season for the playoffs.”