CornerKICKS – Joe Trost, columnist
When it’s all said and done come this June, Ashley and Denny Clanton will go down as one of the most impactful wife-and-husband coaching duos to ever grace a high school in Illinois High School Association history.
The Clantons, who were prep basketball (Ashley Luke) and soccer (Denny) stars at Waubonsie Valley, truly turned around the basketball and soccer programs at Mother McAuley over the past three years. They’ll be moving to Georgia this summer after Ashley accepted a new head girls basketball coaching position.
“It was a tough decision for us and very hard, because we love McAuley and our kids,” said Denny, whose real-life job is headquartered in Georgia and Ashley’s brother, RJ, recently moved there, too. “This will be a new adventure for us.”
Ashley, who won 61 of her last 71 games and posted a 152-68 overall record at Mother McAuley, led the Mighty Macs to their first regional title in 15 years in 2018. A year later, she became the third basketball coach in school history to lead the program to the state finals and finished second.
While the focus of their departure is centered around Ashley’s offer, the loss of Denny will be just as big to the Mother McAuley community. The once-proud soccer program in the 1990s became a doormat for opponents to wipe their feet on until Denny took over in the spring of 2017.
Under his leadership, they went 8-12 in 2017; 12-10 in 2018; and are currently 13-2-1, which includes a win over Downers North, which knocked off Wheaton South last week. While it is a rebuilding year for the Trojans, the Class 3A program finished in the Final Four in 2017 and Elite Eight in 2018, giving Denny a small measuring stick for his program’s growth.
The other key is this – unlike some private school coaches who also coach club and flirt around IHSA violations during the offseason – Denny did it the right way.
“Coach Clanton taught us not only how to be great soccer players, but more importantly how to be a great person,” Mother McAuley junior forward Jenna Badali said. “He preaches that hard work and effort will lead to success and competing is the difference in winning and losing a game.”
To read that from a current player has to make Denny, a former college star at Dayton, who was drafted and played for the Chicago Fire in the early 2000s, realize that his hard work on and off the field has left an impression.
“Coach brought a tremendous knowledge to our game and an appreciation for hard work and dedication both on and off the field,” Mother McAuley senior midfielder Maeve Sheridan said. “Coach also taught the team the importance of giving back, teaching some great life lessons about those less fortunate in our community.”
And that’s the mark of a true championship coach.
THE CHATTER: All eyes will be on a number of Illinois soccer programs, which travel to out-of-area tournaments over the next couple of weeks.
Last fall, two St. Charles North boys soccer players were expelled from the school and additional players were suspended during the North Stars’ regular- and post-season campaign. This came after coach Eric Willson’s team traveled to Kentucky for a weekend in September.
Willson, whose program will not be traveling farther than Naperville this fall, was the latest coach over the past decade to almost lose his job due to an incident during an out-of-area trip.
HELP WANTED: Along with Clanton, Providence boys and girls coach Dan Potempa and Bolingbrook boys coach Jamie Clemmons will not be back next year.
CPS SLOWLY RISING: Little by little, the Chicago Public League is improving on the girls side. While Public League boys programs have claimed IHSA state titles in recent years, the girls side also is making strides thanks to the rise of former players and quality coaching.
Did you know Taft girls soccer coach Christine Medunycia was the first freshmen coach at Maine West and also coached for FC United over the years? Over at Curie, girls coach Pam Melinauskas starred as a player at Sandburg and Eastern Illinois before launching her coaching career at Lincoln-Way West.
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS: Crete-Monee’s Lauren Smith recorded her 123rd goal last Saturday, breaking Adrianna Vera’s program record. Vera went on to start at the University of Chicago.
Smith will attend UIC in the fall, but has opted not to play soccer.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association president Brian Papa cannot recall a time in the past when forfeits happened in soccer.
“Cancelled and rescheduled games – yes,” Papa said. “But forfeits – no.”
Lockport was forced to forfeit its winner’s bracket game at the Plainfield North Classic due to prom, because the tournament wouldn’t reschedule its Saturday times of 1 p.m. semifinal and 5 p.m. final.
But there also were other tournaments where teams forfeited “consolation” games, which makes you wonder if they would’ve forfeited if they were in the winner’s bracket?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT II: It’s only been 6,015 days since Brad Guzan played his last game for Providence, leading them to a Class A runner-up finish at North Central College in Naperville.
Since then, Guzan has gone on to star at South Carolina; in the Premier League; for the U.S. Men’s National Team; and now in the MLS.
But hey, maybe he needs to become President of the United States before Providence inducts the school’s greatest athlete and one of the top soccer players in U.S. history into the New Lenox school’s hall of fame.
It’s the latest of ongoing blunders with soccer in the school’s history. For example, for two straight years the athletic department and school refused to allow the girls soccer team to play a home game – even though they had a stadium field.
Find that hard to believe? Just ask Lyons assistant girls soccer coach Andy Newcomb, who rode the bus time and time again.
Good to see common sense has improved over the years.
CornerKICKS will appear on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at email@example.com.
Bio on columnist: Joe Trost was an award-winning writer at Star Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a three-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year and founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.