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Bloody, battered all just part of the game for Pirate

Crystal River senior guard Ashley Clark easily could keep her basketball statistics in bruises and scrapes.

The total tally of wounds that especially mar her elbows and knees really would be a more honest indicator of her contributions. The 5-foot Clark isn't likely to light it up from the outside or go big inside.

But she is the one pestering an opponent; the one diving after a loose ball; the one wriggling at the bottom of every pile.

She can't explain why she has to go after every ball. Then again, she can't understand why just letting it go would be an option.

"If you're not up, you're not ready to go, you don't need to be out there," Clark said.

The bruises and scrapes are proof, as if anyone needed any, that Clark wants to be out there.

Clark's mom certainly doesn't need convincing. She just wishes her youngest daughter would protect herself. But Clark just brushes her concern aside.

That's not really surprising. After all, this is the same daughter who broke her hand a few years ago playing softball and refused to have it checked until the season ended because she knew the doctor would tell her not to play. Sitting out wasn't an option.

Amber Clark, Ashley's older sister and an assistant varsity basketball coach, laughs that her mom constantly asks her little sister to wear a mouth guard, elbow pads, knee pads - anything. Something. Please?

"She's always scared she's going to get hurt because she's always on the floor," Amber said.

But Ashley's extreme tenacity, which she believes she gets from her father, is how she got first got noticed. It's how she got minutes on varsity as an underclassman.

"That's what got her on the floor a lot as a sophomore," coach Jere DeFoor said. "It wasn't because of her ballhandling or her offense, but because of her hustle and knowing what to do on the floor."

Amber, who graduated in 2005 and coaches the JV team, said she has watched her feisty little sister mature, especially in the past two years.

"She's become more coachable," Amber said. "At first she was really aggressive, and she was like in her own world. But now she takes in everything that the coach says and gives it to the other girls."

Ashley is like another coach on the floor, making her a better player, even if she's not leading any of the traditional categories for her team.

Really, the statistics don't matter to her. She came into this season expecting to have fun. For her, basketball is a break from volleyball and softball. She realized this would be a rebuilding year. Crystal River is 0-4 going into tonight's game against Dunnellon. Yet she didn't think twice about returning to lead the team.

"I wouldn't leave my girls," Ashley said.

Kellie Dixon can be reached at kdixon@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1430.

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