Fans who read Sports Illustrated most certainly had to do a double-take while perusing the popular “Faces in the Crowd’’ feature in the Aug. 4 issue.
That’s because two athletes from the same school – your very own Xavier College Preparatory – shared the spotlight.
It’s rare enough when one school or individual is chosen from hundreds (maybe thousands?) across the country, but having two athletes from the same school in the same issue rarely happens.
Khalia Lanier and Madison Clarke, take a bow!
Lanier, starting her junior year, is widely considered to be the top volleyball player in Arizona and one of the best in the nation. The outside hitter helped Xavier win the Division I state championship in 2013.
The 5-foot-2 Clarke is more than a foot shorter than the 6-3 Lanier, but what she has done on the tennis court is no less impressive. Clarke, now a senior, has won the last two individual Arizona state tennis championships and is aiming for a third in the spring of 2015. As a team, Xavier has won three in a row.
Lanier and Clarke do not really know each other, but they are impressed and prideful of the other’s accomplishments.
“It’s pretty cool to have both of us in there at the same time,’’ Lanier said.
Said Clarke: “Somebody said that I might be in Sports Illustrated. I’m like, “What?’ I also didn’t know she (Lanier) would be in there. I was looking down the list and saw “Xavier,’’ and realized that we both were in. It’s still kind of hard to believe. A lot of my friends have said, “I saw you.’ ’’
Lanier helped lead the Arizona Storm to a second straight gold-medal performance at the junior nationals in Minneapolis.
Clarke recently won the first New Balance high school nationals in Cambridge, Mass., rallying to defeat a California player in two straight sets after dropping the first.
Lanier began to gain notoriety as a freshman at Xavier and was The Arizona Republic’s Big Schools Player of the Year as a sophomore last season. Everything seemingly has happened so fast.
“Sometimes I sit back and think, “How did I even get here?’ It has all been amazing. I am so fortunate,’’ Lanier said.
Lanier’s parents, including father Bob, a former long-time star in the NBA, have counseled her on remaining humble.
“I am reminded of it many times by many people,’’ she said. “In a way, it’s easier for me because I am hard on myself and I realize that at any given moment, it could all be taken away for whatever reason.
“It’s great to get all the support I have received. I love Xavier, the whole school. I love wearing the team’s uniform, love being with my teammates.’’
One of her teammates, Hope Helser, has relatives who operate an orphanage in South Africa, so both girls went there during the summer and helped with the kids.
“It was a great experience,’’ Lanier said.
She recently made her college commitment to USC (pre-med is a possibility) and this fall will attempt to fit more into a leadership role with Xavier after the graduation of six key Gators from last season.
“You have to remember that she still is only 15 years old,’’ said Xavier varsity coach Lamar-Renee Bryant. “Her volleyball IQ continues to grow. She wants to add the leadership tool to her toolbox. And I think the fact that she made her commitment will allow her to play free (of recruiting worries).’’
Clarke was introduced to tennis at an early age and followed in the footsteps of her paternal grandfather and her father, both decent players in their own right.
“I just love playing,’’ she said.
Due in part to her height, she likes to be mentally stronger than her opponents. She prefers to be aggressive from the first serve of the match instead of waiting around too long to see what the other person is going to do.
“I try not to think too much, just react,’’ she said. Clarke hopes to continue to play in college – perhaps in California, where she could study marine biology. She likes dolphins, and has even gone swimming with them in Mexico. Helping them eat – primarily fish and squid -- (eeeyeeew!) – is another story altogether.
So until the varsity tennis season begins in the spring – she will continue to work on her game several times a week with a coach.
“I believe in myself – I know I can win,’’ she said.
Clarke and Lanier know that their recent national recognition doesn’t come without hard work. That’s a way of life at Xavier.