What, exactly, hurts?
Katie Clark didn't have a simple answer for Murrieta Valley girls basketball coach Scott Richards as she collected her thoughts following a nasty tumble on the hardwood court.
Her elbow tingled. Her knee throbbed. Essentially, Clark's entire left side was in question after a collision with an opponent, and so too, was her team's unprecedented run to the CIF state tournament.
With Clark running Richards' offense, not only had the Nighthawks delved deeper into the section finals than any other Murrieta Valley girls hoops team, they were pulling away from San Diego Section champ Serra in a first-round state tournament game. Without her, Murrieta Valley squandered an 11-point lead in a season-ending loss, their last with Clark running the point.
"We've definitely lost one our senior leaders," Richards said. "I called her our court general. She just had great basketball intelligence and great vision on the court."
That intelligence extended well beyond the hard-wood floors, too.
Already the All-Valley Girls Basketball Player of the Year and a CIF Southern Section Division II-A first-team selection, Clark graduated at the top of her class at Murrieta Valley with a 4.67 cumulative grade-point average and a scholarship to Johns Hopkins University, making her an easy choice as The Californian's Girls Scholar Athlete of the Year.
So not even a season-ending injury at the most inopportune time for her team could put a damper on an award-laden senior year.
"It was definitely hard to have to watch the end of that game from the bench, especially since we had control for the majority of the game," Clark said. "But... we had already gotten further than any other team in school history. It was a great season."
Especially for Clark, who pushed the Nighthawks along with big plays in big moments throughout the season. She had a steal and a game-winning layup in the last moments against Murrieta Mesa and later clinched the Nighthawks' second straight Southwestern League championship with a game-winning basket with 48 seconds left to top Chaparral. Then in the playoffs, Clark hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot at Santa Maria Righetti to land the Nighthawks in the school's first semifinal game.
Yet, Clark's accomplishments across the board ---- from the 13.8 points she averaged on the court, to her preparation away from it to the speech she delivered earlier this month as her class' valedictorian ---- left a lasting impression with Richards, and he suspects she'll have the same kind of impact at Johns Hopkins despite devastating injuries that would have knocked most athletes out for the better part of a year.
But not Clark. In addition to maintaining her shot in the gym, she's already riding a stationary bike and was seeking permission to begin running as early as last week ---- weeks ahead of schedule.
"I have no doubt ---- no doubt she'll make it back to play for (Johns Hopkins)," Richards said.
After all, Clark's drive helped land her a starting spot as a freshman and earn her valedictorian honors at the end of both her middle school and high school academic career. On the cusp of embarking on a pre-med class course ---- she'll even have an opportunity to sit in on a procedure done by her surgeon this summer before leaving for Johns Hopkins ---- there's no reason to believe Clark will take it easy now.
It's simply against her nature.
"I knew it was going to be a fight either way without the injury," Clark said. "I'm still of that mindset that I want to work as hard as I can. I'm going to be a little limited, but I don't intend to let it limit me any more than possible.
"I'm really excited to just get there and start working with the coaches and the team."