Not all of us are so fortunate to go out on top. Keisha Clousing did.
The Wheaton Warrenville South senior won the final high school tennis match on Oct. 20, 2012, defeating Hinsdale Central's Alex Solovyev 6-4, 6-1 for the girls state singles title.
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Then she sat out her senior season, with the full blessing of her mother, Patti -- who happens to coach boys and girls tennis for the Tigers.
"For sure, I missed it a lot," said Keisha, who finished second in state as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore. "I got to watch them play a little bit especially when the state (finals) was going on. I missed being there, but I trained a lot. I think I trained a lot more than I would have gotten to train if I were playing the high school season."
Clousing did not train in vain. Rated No. 34 nationally in the Class of 2014, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, on Wednesday she signed her National Letter of Intent to the Clemson Tigers, one of many suitors.
Patti Clousing remembers the first day colleges could contact high-profile junior athletes such as her daughter, on Sept. 1, 2012. While waiting in the Tigers' bus outside a tournament at Neuqua Valley, Keisha's cellphone "just blew up" with emails from Baylor to Florida State, Ivy League schools, the Big Ten, points in between.
"I felt like we were in a movie," Patti said. "I didn't know what do to."
They got it figured out -- Clemson "felt like I was at home there," Keisha said.
On the advice of her "club" coach, Tom Lockhart of the High Performance Tennis Academy that operates in the Oak Brook Park District, the right-hander bypassed her senior season to continue training with an eye toward stops on the United States Tennis Association and International Tennis Federation circuits before she heads to college in South Carolina.
"This is her last opportunity to play in those," said Patti Clousing, who naturally missed her daughter, her best player and a team leader.
"Athletes like Keisha, they're just amazing to watch and to see that talent, no matter the sport," she said.
A full-ride scholarship to Clemson for five years, if necessary, makes it a little easier.
"It feels really good, like I accomplished a lot. I finally it wrapped up," Keisha said.
Going with the changes
Before there was a state series in girls volleyball, there was Jean Field.
Forty years later Jean Field remains. The IC Catholic Prep coach leads the Knights to Bloomington-Normal this weekend seeking a first state trophy since 1989.
In her first season, 1973, Field's fledglings went 3-2 the year before the Illinois High School Association crowned a state champion.
At noon on Friday IC takes a 34-6 record into the Class 2A semifinals at Redbird Arena against defending Class 3A champion Deer Creek-Mackinaw.
"Things have changed a little bit," said Field, who in 39 seasons has a record of 883-474-7. The lack of ties are among many changes.
"I remember when we started they didn't want the lines on the court because it would confuse the basketball players," Field said. "Then we got to practice for two weeks, then we couldn't have the gym after that because they wanted it for basketball practice."
In the Knights' first downstate trip in 1979, claiming second place in Class A, the late Immaculate Conception athletic director and football Jack Lewis was a supporter.
"We had a lot of fun with him," said Field, like Lewis a first-year inductee into the Knights athletic hall of fame.
Another difference from those pioneering days was IC's policy disallowing pregnant teachers at the school. Field, a guidance counselor, missed the 1975-76 seasons, pregnant with daughter Katie that first year.
By 1980, when Jean and Mike Field had their second child, also Mike, that policy no longer held. In fact Mike Sr. said his wife was showing pretty well when IC again placed second in Class A.
One of the joys of being in a program this long -- for Jean Field, long enough to rank sixth all-time in girls volleyball victories -- is coaching the daughters and relatives of former players.
Setter Kimmy Martino has two aunts, Cheryl and Michelle, who played on separate downstate teams for Field, plus three cousins and a sister in the program. Senior outside hitter Delaney D'Amore's mother, Nancy, played on the 1984 state championship team and is now an assistant coach.
Senior outside hitter Rory Manion and younger sister Molly, a right-side, are just two of four Manions Field has coached. The Manions, Martino, juniors Hannah Hartnett and Erin West, sophomore Claudia Koch all are IC legacies and others such as Frannie Cervone and Kerry Mulligan are familiar in the IC sporting lexicon.
Field said these girls share the attributes of those who played on the 1984 title team.
"Oh yeah, definitely, I think the selflessness and the work ethic and just the belief in each other," Field said.
"I've talked with these kids a lot, that a lot of times you see teams that have a lot of talent but are not necessarily good teams. This is a good team because they understand what teamwork is and everybody understands their part. The egos aren't there.
"A lot of times people give lip service to what teamwork is. These guys don't."
Players and coaches can never guarantee there'll be another trip downstate. IC's last was a 1993 Class A quarterfinal match. Field has, and will continue, to take it one year at a time.
"Every year you go it's exciting, it's just fun," she said. "They should be thankful for the moments now, just enjoy what they're going through because it's going to be something they'll remember the rest of their lives."
Couldn't happen to a nicer guy
This space couldn't be more pleased to hear Wheaton North boys track assistant coach Jim Martin will be among seven coaches inducted into the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Jan. 11. Nearly 40 coaches were nominated this year. Martin is the sole DuPage County representative.
A Kaneland graduate whose sixth-place finish in the 220-yard dash in 1965 was the first all-state track honor by a Knight, according to Illinois High School Association records, Martin has coached track for more than 40 years, most of them at Wheaton North. A specialist in hurdles, sprints and relays, he's helped produce 30 state medalists and eight state champions including the amazing Harris brothers, A.J. and Adam.
A former head coach both of Falcons boys track and cross country teams, Martin served as mentor for current Wheaton North coach and fellow ITCCCA Hall of Famer Don Helberg. Helberg himself earned further esteem in August when he was elected to the board of directors of the United States Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Helberg is the only high school coach on the board, which also includes North Central College's Kari Kluckhohn.
Martin and Helberg have helped direct Wheaton North to 10 DuPage Valley Conference titles, eight sectional titles and third-place state finishes in 2002 and 2004.
Always smiling, Martin also is an expert gardener who knows the right places to buy the best seeds for the tastiest tomatoes.
Follow Dave on Twitter @doberhelman1