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

Not long ago, Emma Clark was just a wide-eyed middle schooler in the stands watching the 2A State Track and Field Championships at Middleton High.

Fast forward to today, the Melba girls track and field athlete was the star of the very same tournament. This season the sophomore laid claim to three state titles in the 100-meter dash, the triple jump and her personal favorite, pole vault.

For these achievements, Clark is the 2016-17 Idaho Press-Tribune’s Sports Stars Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.

“I remember going to state and watching it like it was yesterday,” Clark said. “I remember how cool it was and hoping someday day I would be the one out there on that track.

“So to see where I am now is surreal and such a blessing. All my hard work has paid off in ways I couldn’t have even imagined back then.”

Following a banner freshman year where she broke out onto the scene with state titles in the triple jump, long jump and pole vault, Clark came into this season with lofty expectations. She not only wanted to repeat in all those events, but make amends for the only event in which she didn’t win — the 100-meter dash.

In last year’s 2A 100-meter final, Clark had both her worst time and finish. She crossed the line at 13.49 seconds for a fifth-place finish.

But the 100-meters quickly turned into one of her best events this season, going from five to eight wins. In fact, Clark won all but one 100-meter race this season.

The lone race she didn’t win was at the 2A Western Idaho Conference meet on April 26. Clark was beaten by just 0.06 of a second to finish as runner-up. Instead of dwelling on the loss, she used it as motivation, and was never beaten again.

After a runner-up finish at last year’s 2A District III Championships, Clark came back this season and literally ran away with her first 100-meter district title. She finished with a season-best time of 12.86 seconds, her fastest time since running a personal record time of 12.54 seconds in last year’s New Plymouth Invitational.

The 12.86 time was also well ahead of her next closest competitor. Clark’s time was 0.35 of a second faster than the runner-up finisher, and the fastest in the state at the 2A classification.

The result made Clark the favorite in the 100-meter dash at the place where she endured her greatest hardship a season ago — the 2A State Track and Field Championships. But this time, it was a much different and happier story.

In front of packed crowd at Middleton High, Clark obtained the one title that eluded her last season. She overcame a slow start to hold off West Side’s Rachael Reeder by 0.06 of a second to win the 100-meter crown with a time of 12.93 seconds.

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“At the beginning of the race I was thinking, ‘oh no everybody’s ahead of me again,’” Clark said. “But this time I didn’t panic. About midway through I told myself ,‘let’s go’ and I gave it everything I had.

“When I came across the line first, I was very relieved to say the least. I just wanted that win under my belt so I could finally move on.”

The 100-meter title wasn’t the only title to fall to Clark. She repeated in both the pole vault and triple jumps with personal record marks of 10-feet, 10-inches and 37-feet, 4-inches, respectively. The only event Clark didn’t win a state championship in was the long jump. She placed second despite a personal record mark of 17-feet, 9.75 inches.

Clark’s three state titles and runner-up finish paced the Mustangs to a second team trophy in as many years. The third-place outing at state capped an impressive 2017 campaign.

Clark anchored Melba to an unbeaten regular season and led the team to its first district title in 27 years.

“That says a lot about her and her competitiveness,” pole vaulting coach Kevin Capps said. “I don’t think she sees her age as a limitation. She embraces that role and more than anything, she wants to win for the team.

“She helps the others kids, cheers for them and wants them to be successful also. That all translates into being a great leader on the team.”

Thanks to the help of her jumps coach, her father Casey Clark, and Capps, Clark tallied 32 first-place finishes in all and placed no worse than second in her events this season. She went unbeaten in the triple jump and her state mark of 37-feet, 4-inches was the fourth best in the entire state regardless of classification.

Clark’s six total state championships in her first two seasons are already the most in program history.

“What’s crazy is she’s not even close to being done and I think she can be even better than she is now,” Melba track coach Vonnie Willis said. “I totally think she can win four titles apiece the next two years.

“She’s just that kind of a girl and she’s going to go out with a fight.”

If Clark does add to her already historic resume in the years to come, she’ll likely inspire girls the way she was inspired in the stands not that long ago.

“My goal next year is to win four state championships, to go a perfect 4 for 4,” Clark said. “Really that’s one of the only things I haven’t accomplished yet. I really want it. I want to keep improving my marks because I’m never satisfied. I still have big steps I need to take.”

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