By Josh Brown
TIPP CITY — After helping lead the Tippecanoe Red Devils to the regional championship game during her junior season, Carly Clodfelter had big expectations for her senior year.
She was forced to adjust those early on, though.
A season-ending injury suffered in the fourth game of this year’s girls basketball season kept the Devils’ star player — who was in line to break Tippecanoe’s all-time scoring record this year — off the court. But while she wasn’t able to contribute on the floor, she remained with the team all season long, providing emotional support and rooting her teammates on during their second straight magical run to the regional final, a bittersweet ending to a phenomenal career.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Clodfelter said. “The beginning of the year started out so great. It just happened so soon.”
Clodfelter averaged 16.3 points per game in her first three games of the year and had already scored eight points against division rival Kenton Ridge before going down with what proved to be an ACL injury. She had entered the season already having broken the 1,000-point mark for her career last year, becoming the seventh girls player in Tippecanoe history to reach that milestone, and would have easily surpassed the career scoring mark had her average held up over the course of a full season.
“It was (tough),” first-year Tippecanoe coach Andy Holderman said. “At that point, I was still trying to learn Carly as a player. She wasn’t in anyone else’s shadow anymore, her expectations for herself were high and my expectations of what I was hoping that what she could give the team were high.
“Being so close to the school record, that was definitely in her grasp. Then to have a freak injury where she didn’t touch anyone … boom, that all kind of gets taken away.”
Tippecanoe went on to win that game against Kenton Ridge and finished the regular season 17-5, earning the No. 1 seed in their sectional tournament bracket — and Clodfelter was there the whole way.
“What I encouraged her to do, since she couldn’t physically be on the court, was to change roles and see it from a sideline perspective,” Holderman said. “To mentor the younger players and help the team with insight, to use it as an opportunity for her to build leadership and contribute that way.”
“I figured my job would be to help everyone feel like they were doing fine,” Clodfelter said. “When the coaches would yell and get tough, I tried to lighten things up. I thought our coaches had a good balance of tough and light, but when it got too tough, I’d be encouraging.
“I went for my friends. They wanted me to be there. I’d been playing with the same seniors since the second grade. They’re my best friends, and I didn’t want to act like I was never there. It was hard. I was part of everything, and it got easier toward the end of the season, but it was still never really that easy. There were times when getting ready to go to games that my parents asked me if I really wanted to go. But I liked being there for my friends.”
And on the court, the Devils came together coming alive in the postseason. They rallied from a 17-point deficit to defeat Carroll in the sectional championship, came back from 12 behind by tying the district final against Mariemont at the buzzer and won in overtime and they held off River Valley in the regional semifinal to advance to the regional final for the second straight season, finally falling to Alter — which will play for its second straight Division II state title Saturday.
“It was awesome for them,” Clodfelter said of her teammates. “A lot of people doubted them, and I think they doubted themselves at first, too, for a bit. But it’s a really close group of girls, and that helped a lot. At the beginning, they didn’t have much confidence, but at the end they were playing with a lot.”
And Clodfelter was there the entire time — the first one off the bench to congratulate her teammates after a great play, and the first one to console them after a tough loss.
Now Clodfelter will continue to work on rehab and getting ready for the fall, when she will play Division I college basketball at Wright State University — where Holderman played his college basketball.
“That’s one of the reasons I was so excited for him to be my coach,” Clodfelter said. “He was like, ‘I’m going to be extra hard on you and get you ready.’ Thankfully, I’d committed two weeks before the injury happened. Who knows what couldn’t happened after that.”
“Being at Wright State myself, I felt like I had an in for her on what it would take there,” Holderman said. “She didn’t have that pressure to perform in her senior season, having already signed two weeks before her injury. That weight was off her shoulders, and I know it was a relief on her part to get that out of the way early.”
And while she didn’t have anything left to prove personally for anyone else, she still would’ve wanted the chance to live up to her own expectations.
“No,” she said when asked if she accomplished all she wanted to in high school. “I had a few goals that I obviously couldn’t reach, and it was really hard. But I’m okay. I’m okay — and I’m for sure going to be playing again.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.