BY BRANDON SCHLAGER
Niagara Gazette — Three years ago, the Starpoint varsity girls volleyball program had a lot of growing to do.
The Spartans won just one game in 2010, and first-year head coach Kristie Slack knew her team had a long way to go before it could be competitive.
But 2010 wasn’t just Slack’s first season behind the wheel of the varsity program. She was also joined by sisters Brianna and Madison Clark, each in their first season playing varsity volleyball.
Since day one, Brianna, then a freshman, and Madison, an eighth-grader, showed Slack she had plenty to look forward to.
Now, after leading the team to a 9-7 record in their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively, Starpoint’s first since moving down from Class A — the Clark sisters have helped the Spartans grow into a team ready to contend as the Section VI Class B sectionals get underway tonight.
“There’s definitely a unique connection between the two of them,” Slack said. “The rest of the team feeds off what they do. There’s no question our success stems from them. They really have led the program to become what it is right now.”
The Clark sisters are the perfect compliment to one another, Slack said.
This season, as Madison works primarily out of the setter position running the team’s offense, Brianna anchors the defense as outside hitter.
Madison leads the Spartans in kills (114), assists (150) and aces (63) while Brianna tops the team with 195 digs.
The Clark sisters, separated by just 16 months, do just about everything together both on and off the court. It’s been that way all their lives.
Sleepovers. Homework. Other sports. You name it.
“We’re both really competitive,” Madison said. “We push each other to do better. We’re always practicing together, always trying to out-do each other.”
“We’re like best friends,” Brianna added. “We spend more time together than we do with our friends and probably even the rest of our family.”
When off the court, they each play softball for the Amherst Lightning Elite college showcase teams and for Starpoint, where Brianna especially excels.
The older sister has led the Spartans in batting average for the past three seasons, earning team MVP honors the previous two and playing third base while Madison holds down second.
“I love volleyball, but softball has always been my sport,” Brianna said. “Softball is my thing and volleyball is hers.”
Since the sisters joined the varsity team together three years ago, helping the Spartans through their growing pains called for the sisters to experience some of their own.
In seventh grade, Brianna tore her ACL playing basketball. For two and a half years, her injury went misdiagnosed until a trip to the doctor last fall revealed its severity along with a meniscus tear.
Before surgery, Brianna struggled to play sports on her bad knee. She missed her sophomore season of volleyball and was worried she’d miss softball, too, if the outlook didn’t improve quickly.
“It was kind of scary,” Brianna said. “Sometimes my knee would give out out of nowhere. I’d just be standing around and all of a sudden I’d be falling backward.”
So it was physical therapy three days a week while she sat on the sidelines and kept stats watching Madison play volleyball.
“My sister really supported me through the whole thing,” Brianna said. “It was really tough for me to watch knowing I couldn’t be out there, but I learned a lot. I got to really watch my sister become a better volleyball player, and that was really cool.”
Madison did get better. Fast.
Now, it’s the younger sister who leads the Spartans on the court, with her big sis never far behind to provide her two cents whenever she can.
Already Madison has been contacted by schools like the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, while Brianna is hoping to attract Division I attention herself this spring once softball season gets under way.
Though spring is when Brianna will shine brightest, her role on the court never goes unnoticed. Right now, though, it’s Madison’s time to take center stage, with her sister eager to help out in any way she can.
“I can definitely see Brianna looking toward Madison for her leadership,” Slack said. “On the court, I do think Brianna looks up to her little sister.”
Whether they’re turning a 5-4-3 double play or executing the perfect kill, wherever you find one Clark sister, the other isn’t far away cheering her sister on. Or, trying to one-up the other.
“I know I always have someone to look up to … even though I’m taller than her,” Madison said, quick to make sure the slight detail did not go unnoticed.
Because of the Clark sisters, Starpoint’s growth spurt is just about complete.
“On and off the court, they never leave each other’s side,” Slack said. “Our team benefits a ton from that.”