Nazareth’s senior ready to lead the way

Nazareth Academy senior Melissa Clark is ready to take charge with her team and a new coach.

Melissa Clark plans on being the leader of a young Nazareth team. She also believes the team can make a run in the Catholic Academies League. SOURCE: MELISSA CLARK

Melissa Clark knew it was going to mean more work.

She also knew it was going to mean more success.

Clark is a senior at Nazareth Academy and when she found out that her school hired Jimmy Dillon as the basketball coach, she knew as well as anyone that he would ask a lot of his players.

“He’s been my trainer for eight years,” said Clark, a small forward on the Pandas. “I knew he was going to expect a lot of us, but I know I learned a lot from him. He’s made me a better player because of the things I’ve learned. I was really excited when I heard he was coming to coach us.

“I think he expects a lot from me because he knows me and he’s always done that. He’s hard on me. That’s why I’m a better player because of it.”

That’s exactly why Clark thinks the Pandas will be better as well.

It might take a little time for that to happen, though, because this year’s squad is full of younger players. In fact, Clark is the only senior the Pandas have on the roster, which means the Pandas should be better in future seasons. And while Clark is proud she’s in position to help Nazareth down the line, her goal is to help the team win this year.

So far, she likes what she sees.

“We’re playing a lot better, we’re playing as a team and we’re getting better every game,” said Clark, who lives in Our Lady of Calvary Parish. “It’s been getting better and better. We still have a lot further to go, but this year our goal is definitely the playoffs. We want to be better, and the playoffs are the goal.”

Clark is playing her part to perfection.

As a longtime basketball player, she enjoys chipping in on the scoreboard, but her primary responsibilities are doing things that don’t always show up in the scoring summary.

And because she stands 5 feet 4, the best way she can help the team is by outworking her opponents.

“I can score, but I’m more of an assist-type player and a rebounder,” Clark said. “To rebound when you’re not that tall, you have to work hard and battle. I think sometimes I (surprise) people because I’m able to rebound pretty well. I’m just out there to do whatever I can.”

She’s also ready to assist away from the court.

Because she’s a lifetime basketball player, and because she’s the only senior on the squad, younger players will sometimes come to her for advice. She’s able to help everyone, too, because as a small forward, she is just as comfortable playing outside as she is playing in the paint.

And the best part is that when she talks, her teammates listen.

“I’ve been watching these girls, especially the juniors, and they are so much better than when they started,” Clark said. “They’re so much better. It’s really fun to see them improve because I know they’ve worked hard.

“Whenever someone has a question, I’m a helper, I try to help them. I’ve been around for a while and I know a lot of what (Dillon) wants, so when I can help anyone out, I’m always going to do it.”

During the winter, at least as far as athletics go, she’s all about basketball, and that’s the sport she expects to play next year in college at Northern Vermont University.

But Clark also competes on two other teams at Nazareth. She’s a member of the volleyball squad, and during the spring, she’s a thrower for the track and field team.

She’s also heavily involved in other activities at the school, including the sign language club and the Italian club, as well as working on the Highlights Literary Magazine, which the school puts out.

“When I was younger, I had some problems hearing, so I wanted to learn more about sign language,” Clark said. “The Highlights Literary Magazine is great. I get to work with a lot of really good people there.”

Just like she does in basketball.

Most expect the Pandas to be improved, but few expect them to be a factor in the always-tough Catholic Academies League, and in the postseason. But don’t tell that to Clark and her teammates. They have high hopes.

“We are very young, but the girls are so much better, I think we can be really good this year,” Clark said. “I think they’ll be good for a long time now. We want to win this year, and our goal is to win. I think we should be better. A lot better.”