Trying to do a basic act of good for the environment could have cost Madison Clarke’s school a championship.
During a break between classes at Xavier, Clarke walked toward a trash can to throw away garbage, when her foot caught an indentation in the ground.
Her ankle twisted, she hit the ground and couldn’t get up. Friends eventually helped her up and she limped to her next class, followed by a hobble to another class.
It was two days before the Division I state team semifinals against rival Tucson Salpointe Catholic, and the Gators’ No. 1 player couldn’t walk.
“I didn’t think it was that bad until I couldn’t walk,” she said.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was until she came hobbling in on crutches and I saw swelling the size of an orange protruding out the side of her foot,” Gators coach Laurie Martin said. “The tears welled up in my eyes thinking we had no chance of winning the team title.”
Clarke didn’t practice the next day (Wednesday), but, determined not to make Xavier have to shuffle its lineup, smothered her foot and ankle in tape and tried to play against Salpointe and its No. 1 player, Courtney Amos, whom Clarke had beaten during an early regular season match but then lost to in the Div. I singles state championship match in late April. The second-place finish was tops among EV tournament singles players in all three divisions.
But the freshman who first learned the game from her father on a racquetball court, couldn’t move side-to-side and the pain forced her to withdraw during the match. Her teammates, however, picked up the pace and beat the Lancers to reach the team championship match.
Two days later, Clarke was healed enough to be the first player to win her individual match, 6-1, 6-0, against Chaparral as the Gators rolled to the school’s first team state title since 2003.
“My main goal was to start well and then the goals increased to beat better people, and then it was to beat people like Courtney,” she said. “I was kind of disappointed in my final match with her but couldn’t do anything about it.”
That may not be the case going forward. Martin noted in her 30 years of coaching and teaching tennis have encountered precious few players with Clarke’s aggressiveness, baseline play and ability to hit the ball directly out of the air.
It’s why the 15-year-old Clarke is ranked No. 1 in the USTA Southwest among 16-and-under girls, a top-50 player in the country among 16s and headed for a summer of sectional and national tournaments.
“These are skills that you see in college players, not high school freshmen,” Martin said.
Bad news for her peers: You’ll be seeing them for another three years.
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.