Leslie Clark Sets History
Freshman matures in tourney and breaks recordNovember 21, 2006 · Denise Gideon, MT Media Relations
Leslie Clark grew up last Friday in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Tournament. The freshman setter for the Middle Tennessee volleyball team walked off the court in game three of a hotly-contested match with host North Texas grimacing in pain. You could see the concerned faces on the bench and in the eyes of Head Coach Matt Peck.
Clark held her hand tightly as the first shimmer of tears began to stream down her face. She was hurt at one of the crucial turning points in the match and the young setter walked off the court leaving her team and facing an uncertain future.
"She is just a very tough kid," Peck said. "She is a true team player and is always thinking about what is best for the team."
As a team, the club didn't miss a beat when senior setter Megan Sumrell was put into the game. She played a steady game and helped the Blue Raiders win game three in the match. Clark wasn't worried when she went out because of Sumrell's ability to lead the team, but she just wanted to get back out there and play none the less.
"I knew having Megan in there that everyone would be fine," Clark said. "It wasn't so much that I needed to get back in the game as I wanted to get back in the game because it was so exciting to play."
It would turn out alright in the end. Clark got ice, had it taped up and returned to the game to finish the match. But something changed that day. Peck knew he had something special in his youthful setter but at that point he knew she was a competitor and was willing to do whatever was needed for the team.
"She grew up a lot at the conference tournament in the respect that she out played the other setters at the tournament," Peck said. "She is a quiet player in that she just goes out and gets the job done and I think that is why she sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to postseason awards."
Clark is a tough competitor; after all, she was a soccer player as well in high school. This tournament wasn't the first she had to deal with overcoming an injury.
"I have had a few injuries playing different sports," Clark said. "I am used to it and I knew if I could play I would."
In the Sun Belt Tournament, Clark logged 135 assists in three matches averaging 13.50 per game. She also had 10 digs and five block assists.
She directed the high-powered outside hitters and middle blockers on the team to an impressive and dominating performance against two of the top teams in the conference. After shutting out Florida Atlantic for the second time this season to open the tournament, Clark and company fended off Sun Belt West Champions North Texas for a berth in the Sun Belt Tournament finals.
"Overall I think we progressed as a team in the tournament," Clark said. "It was good to be able to work out some of the kinks as we went through. Now we know what we need to work on."
Clark, determined to play and even forgoing tape on her injury, helped her club win Middle Tennessee's first Sun Belt Tournament title in school history. The Blue Raiders shutout Florida International for the third-straight time this season to claim the crown.
Clark is no stranger to pressure-filled situations. She led both her volleyball and soccer teams to state titles at Olathe South High School in Olathe, Kansas as a senior.
"I think my overall sports experience, not just the championships I have played in, has helped me," Clark said. "Already being in some of those situations, in my high school career, kind of took the pressure off when we got to the tournament."
Now Clark can add Sun Belt Tournament Champions to her list of awards. It is something that makes her bright eyes light up when she thinks about it.
"It was so awesome to win the tournament especially the way we did it," Clark said. "Ashley [Asberry] had such an amazing kill to end the match."
Quiet and reserved when she first walked onto the Middle Tennessee campus in August, Clark has emerged into a leader on the court. She has to be. As the setter she is the quarterback on the team, directing traffic and assuring the hot-hand gets the ball on the court for the kill.
Clark was the back-up setter to start the season but by the middle of September she had won the job. She started full-time as the setter in the Blue Raiders match against Temple on September 15 and has started every game since.
"It was exciting when Matt [Peck] came to me and told me he wanted me to be the starting setter but I was also a little nervous," Clark said. "The girls were so accepting of me and made the transition easy. Megan Sumrell was amazing. Instead of being offended that I was taking over the setting duties she really stepped in and helped."
She has shined in her first year as a Blue Raider. Clark currently has 1,052 assists this season making her the first Middle Tennessee freshman setter in school history to record over 1,000 assists.
"I was surprised I went over 1,000 assists," Clark said. "I didn't expect that at all. My assists have to do with the hitters because I know a lot of the sets I have put up haven't been perfect. They are just incredible hitters; they put a lot of balls down."
She has recorded double doubles six times and had a career-high 62 assists in Middle Tennessee's key 3-1 victory over Western Kentucky on November 11. She also had a career-high 15 digs against Arkansas State.
With over 1,000 assists this season, Clark is on pace to reach 5,000 assists by the time her senior season concludes. Maybe she could also add a few more Sun Belt Tournament titles to her list of accomplishments as well.
Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.
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