Ashland University volleyball senior Casey Clark came into the 2016 season on pace to easily become just the second player in program history to have at least 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.
That was, until her unselfishness got in the way.
Clark, an outside hitter for her entire Eagle career through Sept. 17 of this year, made the switch to libero for the next seven matches – putting her pursuit of history on hold. Needing 40 kills to join Mary Kate Glowe as Ashland's only 1,000-1,000 players, the switch was made to a defensive position where kills are almost non-existent.
"I had not played libero," admitted Clark. "I was like, 'If you need me back there, and it's going to help the team, I'm going to do what I need to do. Whatever position I'm needed (at) to win, that's what I'm going to do."
"Casey has just always been a team player. Always," said Ashland head coach Cass Dixon. "From her freshman year on. When she came into the program, she's like, 'I had no expectations of playing. I was just here to help the team, and whatever happened, happened.'
"We debated about that, because we knew that it could be a potential possibility that a kid as good as what she is could be 40 kills shy of 1,000-1,000, and you go, 'Do what I want to do that?' You have to think really hard as a coach, do I want to take that away from a kid?"
Heading into the 2016 Mizuno Midwest Region Volleyball Crossover in Aurora, Ill., Clark was moved back to outside hitter in a lineup change which also included senior Alli Cudworth moving to right-side hitter and junior Melanie Aguayo to libero.
For Clark, the results not only have included reaching the 1,000-1,000 mark in a 3-1 win against Illinois-Springfield on Oct. 14, but in the last five matches – all Ashland wins – she has had 70 kills, 72 digs and 10 total blocks.
"Mel stepped into that libero role and feels extremely comfortable now, and is taking ownership of that," Dixon said. "We've been able to diversify the offense a little bit, and it allows us to be that much more balanced at multiple positions.
"Plus Casey is a great blocker. It gets overlooked often because of her back-row skills, but she's a great blocker in the front row."
Said Clark, "Having us out on the court as much as possible, all three of us together, has definitely been a help to keep the younger girls more calm in stressful times."
When asked about the 1,000-1,000 accomplishment, Clark was quick to deflect the attention elsewhere.
"Honestly, I think more about my teammates, just how they've been so supportive," she said. "The day I did get it, they were counting down on the bench. I think less about me and more about the team."
A player who has earned first-team, second-team and honorable mention All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference honors, Clark will end her Eagle career with no fewer than 285 digs in all four seasons, and with seven more kills, at least 200 of those in all four campaigns. Her .217 hitting percentage this fall is a career best.
And while Clark became the second Eagle to reach 1,000-1,000, her classmate, Cudworth, needs just 99 digs to become the second AU player to do it in the same season.
"I think it would be awesome for Alli to get 1,000-1,000 with me," Clark said. "It would be really cool to see the legacy we're leaving, the standard."
Ashland will take its five-match winning streak into the final regular-season road GLIAC match of 2016 on Friday (Oct. 28) at 7 p.m. at Walsh. A couple weeks later will be both Senior Night (Nov. 11 against Wayne State) and Parents Day (Nov. 12 vs. Findlay) prior to the start of the 2016 GLIAC Tournament.
"I'm real excited for Senior Day," Clark said. "I'll maybe get emotional, just because I've been playing volleyball my whole life, so it's going to be a change when I realize it's going to be gone."
After that could be a trip to the NCAA postseason, something Clark experienced as a freshman.
"Now, we're finishing games, and I think that's really going to be a key," she said.