Multi-sport stars lead Lady Panther push for postseason

Multi-sport stars lead Lady Panther push for postseason

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Multi-sport stars, (L to R) Laurel Parker, Alli Jones, Riley Clark, and Dylan Patterson are the engine powering the Lady Panther basketball team as they aim for another postseason trip. Their dedication to the school comes with a lot of sacrifices, but they live for the pride of winning at Starr’s Mill in all seasons. (Photo by Adam Hagy / www.adamhagyphotography.com)

You can call them the Core Four for Lady Panther sports. For one of the best athletic programs in the entire state, a quartet of girls stay right in the middle of the action. Riley Clark, Laurel Parker, Dylan Patterson, and Alli Jones are all mutli-sport stars for Starr’s Mill, spending their year battling for the black and blue.
As the lone four seniors for the basketball team, they will be the engine that drives the Panthers back to the postseason.
They already know the taste of success. While Jones pushed the volleyball squad back to the playoffs this fall, Clark, Parker, and Patterson are all coming off a state championship after leading the soccer team to the top of the mountain in the spring.
“I know that they have been in tough situations before, and usually nothing phases them,” says their basketball coach, Shane Ratliff.
There is a friendly rivalry between the squads, one where they encourage each other.
“Our soccer teammates want us to do well, but they always want us to get back as soon as possible,” says Parker. “It’s a nice competition between the basketball team and the soccer team to see who does well.”
Before basketball tips off, Jones is still making her mark on the court as a star for the volleyball squad. It doesn’t make getting ready for hoops easy, as she calls the transition one of the most difficult parts of playing multiple sports.
“You use different kind of muscles, so the transition is a little bit hard on the body physically,” says Jones. “And you have to get into a different mode mentally for basketball.”
If there is a struggle for her, it does not show. Jones was an All-County First Teamer in basketball last year and in volleyball this fall.
Striving for success in all facets isn’t easy, even for the quartet.
“Balancing basketball practice, soccer practice, and homework on top of it and trying to keep the GPA high is a struggle,” says Clark.
“You get really tired,” adds Patterson.
With so much time on the fields and courts and in the classroom, there isn’t much left over for usual teenage pursuits. Asked if there is time for a social life, you get a pretty standard answer.
“Not at all,” jokes Patterson. “Hanging out with people is really not an option.”
“There’s not much of that,” says Clark. “When we have a free slot, we try to hang out with our friends, but it’s just a lot to balance.”
Even when the school’s team is not in season, there are still club sports. Jones has volleyball in the fall, goes straight into basketball, then moves into track and AAU basketball right after. For the soccer girls, that sport is always going.
“Basketball is our offseason,” Patterson says. “Riley and I go to two practices a day. We go straight to (club) soccer right after basketball practice.”
It does have its benefits, especially in learning time management.
“It’s not easy transitioning back into school mode with all of the games and practices,” says Parker, who juggles a load of AP classes and is going to focus on academics in college. “It’s definitely helped me in the long run.”
Their coach appreciates their tremendous sacrifices.
“Multi-sport athletes do help because they come in conditioned, but it is a double-edged sword too because you are fighting for their time,” says Ratliff. “The greatest thing about having the multi-sport athletes is their fighter mentality. They are so competitive.”
This year is it for high school sports with all four graduating in the spring, but the future is bright.
Clark is the point guard for basketball and plays midfielder and forward in soccer. She loves being in the middle of the action.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she says.
Clark is headed to Columbus State next year on a soccer scholarship.
Parker lines up as a midfielder on the pitch and at guard in basketball.
Patterson is a defender in soccer, and she also makes her mark as a gritty, physical guard in basketball. She will play soccer next fall for Winthrop University.
Jones is looking forward to being able to narrow her preparation next year in college, where she has signed with North Georgia for basketball.
“I’m pretty excited to focus on basketball and be in an environment where everyone is focused just on basketball,” she says.
It all adds up to a lot of different balls to balance, but would they change anything? Not at all, they say. There’s just something special about playing for your school that you can’t put a price tag on.
“It’s cool to have that environment around you all the time and have your friends encouraging you,” says Clark. “I consider myself really lucky to be able to do that year-round.”
Winter hoops action will heat up with the team back from holiday hoops play this week, and the Lady Panthers have their sights set on a playoff trip. With the Core Four leading the way, they can make their dreams come true in basketball before returning to their other Starr’s Mill squads.

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.