GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Emma Clark, Melba

Emma Clark had done everything coming into this past season.

Except one.

But the Melba junior track and field star finally did the one thing this season that had eluded her for the past two years — win four individual titles at a state tournament meet.

Clark took first place 32 times this season on her way to claiming three 2A District III titles and becoming the first Melba track and field athlete, boy or girl, ever to win four championships in a single state tournament meet with wins in the long jump, triple jump, pole vault and 100-meter dash events.

For these accomplishments, Clark is the 2017-18 Idaho Press’ Sports Stars Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“She’s by far the best all-around athlete I’ve ever been able to coach,” pole vaulting coach Kevin Capps said. “It’s unheard of to have that kind of pressure on you and rise to the occasion. But it doesn’t bother her. She just embraces it and competes well and doesn’t worry about the results.

“But the thing that makes her the best to me is she’s very coachable. When we were at track meets trying to move up poles or change poles, she always trusted whatever I told her. Not a lot of athletes on her level would do that because they think they know everything. But she’s the farthest thing from that.”

Clark pulled out all the stops to ensure this was the year she accomplished the long awaited and historic feat. Her father and Melba girls track and field assistant coach Casey Clark looked up training videos on YouTube for his daughter to do. They even enlisted the help of an Olympic gold medalist.

Emma trained with Stacy Dragila during the season. Dragila won the inaugural women’s pole vault at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. The Idaho State graduate now has her own training facility in Boise, which the 17-year-old took full advantage of.

“It was amazing,” Clark said. “I couldn’t help but think the whole time I’m actually working with an Olympic gold medalist. I learned so much from her and it was so beneficial to me. The little things I wouldn’t even think about she just sees automatically. It really made me want to be like her.”

But that training was almost all for not.

During the second meet of the season at Nampa Christian on March 21, Clark broke her right pinky in the 100-meter dash. She leaned too far forward when she crossed the finish line and failed to regain her balance. Clark tried to catch herself by planting her right hand down but it slipped and smashed into the track below.

The injury left her pinky in a slint and grounded her from pole vault for more than a month. But while her pinky was on the mend, Clark picked up another event that she had never done before — the 200-meter dash.

Clark won all three races she was in.

She made her triumphant return to the pole vault at the WIC meet on her own home track on April 25. While her pinky had some difficulty grabbing the pole, Clark still cleared 10 feet, 9 inches.

It was a then-season high.

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“I’m still not sure she’s human and I’m her sister,” freshman Kate Clark laughed. “That’s just crazy. Who does that?

“But she’s just a freaky athlete and a insane competitor. Emma just rises to the challenge whenever she needs to. When she wants something, nothing stands in her way.”

Clark continued to show no signs of rust during the final month of the season, which included the 2A District III and 2A State Track and Field Championships. She won district titles in 100-meter dash, the triple jump and of course, the pole vault, along with a runner-up finish in the long jump to fellow teammate Kori Pentzer.

Clark, though, didn’t take second to anyone the following week at state.

She began her historic quest of four state titles with championships in the pole vault and the triple jump on day No. 1 of state. Clark cleared a personal record of 11 feet, 1 inch for the pole vault title. The next closest person jumped 9 feet, 6 inches. She then turned around and won the triple jump crown with a leap of 39 feet. It was the second best mark in the state regardless of classification.

Clark has never lost in the triple jump in high school. The only time she has ever not taken first was in the seventh grade, and even that was just once.

On the second and final day of state, history was made.

A week after losing out on the long jump district title to Pentzer, Clark got the better of her best friend this time around. She won the long jump championship with a personal record mark of 18 feet, 1 inch to make it three for three with just one final event to go — the 100-meter dash.

After she just missed out on making history in her first two years by taking fifth in the 100-meter dash as a freshman and second in the long jump as a sophomore, Clark didn’t let the feat get away from her this time. She pulled away with about 30 meters left and won with a time of 12.70 seconds.

The win gave Clark the distinction of being the first boys or girls runner from Melba to ever win four titles at a state tournament meet. It also brought her number of state championships to double digits at 10, which is also the most ever in school history.

It didn’t take Clark long to realize what she had done. A smile quickly spread across her face a few moments after crossing the finish line. Better yet, the Melba girls track and field team won its first state championship since 1980, giving Clark even more to smile about.

“It was just so fulfilling. I still can’t even wrap my head around it,” Clark said. “This was something I had wanted to do for years and it finally happened. It was a blessing and something I will never forgot.

“I never would have believed I would do all of this when I started in the seventh grade. I was just a goofy kid and here I am now. It’s crazy.”

Following the unprecedented season, it would seem like there isn’t much left for Clark to achieve. But she said there is still plenty left for her to do next season. Even if the rest of us can’t think of anything.

“I can always be better,” Clark said. “There are some times and marks that I want to hit next season. I also want to win four state titles again. So I’m going to work my butt off and see what happens. I’m a competitor and I’m never satisfied even if a lot of people think I don’t have anything left to prove.”

Brandon Walton covers Ada County and College of Idaho sports for the Idaho Press.

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