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TOP COMET: Eastern No. 1 singles player Casey Clark chases down a shot against Tipton's Lynnae Long during Wednesday's match in the Kokomo Sectional. Clark defeated Long 6-0, 6-1 for her school-record 79th career win.

Eastern tennis player Casey Clark won a 20-shot point on her opponent's serve to wrap up the seventh game of the second set Wednesday afternoon, then went to the net to shake hands with Tipton's Lynnae Long.

It was the 79th time Clark had shaken hands after winning a match for Eastern, setting a new Comet record. Clark's 6-0, 6-1 victory was part of Eastern's 4-1 win over Tipton in the opening round of the Kokomo Sectional. Northwestern won the other opener, beating Taylor 5-0.

Clark talked about the record and Eastern's season on Wednesday, closing with thanks to the people who've helped shape her game.

"I just want to say thanks to all my family, and my team, and my coaches," the IUK recruit said. "They've developed me into the player I am, and allow me to set this record."

Whether she realized it or not, that record was brewing well before she got to high school. Clark is a senior now and has at least one more match to play today in a 4 p.m. semifinal match against Western. But Clark has been facing high school-level competition for more than just four years.

"She grew up playing with her sister [Courtney], who probably hit the biggest ball I've ever coached, and so nothing fazes her when it comes to pace," Eastern coach Pat Rice said. "She passed her about two or three weeks ago in the standings. That was a big accomplishment.

"You've got a great like Courtney, who just finished her career at Taylor University, and somebody to always come out and hit with you, who's got pace. Not much fazes her on court."

In setting the record, Clark passed former Eastern standout Carly Miles, who graduated in 2011 and went on to play at Bradley University. Courtney Clark took over the No. 1 singles position when Miles graduated, then Lauryn Hickey took over No. 1 after Courtney Clark graduated. Then this year it was Clark's turn to lead the lineup.

When she took over No. 1, the record wasn't on Clark's mind at all.

"I really didn't think I was even close so I didn't think about it or even have it in mind until the middle of the season, and then once I was getting close to the record it became a goal, but I feel like our main goal this year is sectional," Clark said. "I really want to win sectional."

The Comets take a 19-1 record into today's action, with Clark posting an identical 19-1 mark this year. She's adjusted well to the top spot after playing most of three seasons at No. 2, with a couple matches last year at No. 1.

Clark's only loss last season was a No. 1 singles match to Northwestern's Madison Layden and Clark was 21-0 her sophomore season. Clark's game has grown along her journey to take over at No. 1 singles.

"I think I've gotten more confident in myself," she said. "I still think I'm kind of consistent, but I used to be a lot more timid than I am now.

"I think it just came with experience."

Rice said Clark has always been good at chasing down balls defensively, but has gotten more offense.

"I think she's gotten a little more power over the course of her career," Rice said. "Early on she was just one of those who likes to keep it in play and let the other girl make the error, but I think, through working through the winter, working with [Kokomo boys coach] Shawn Flanary a little bit, she's gotten some more power, especially on the serve."

Clark's main focus is staying alive with the Comets as long as possible. It's been a productive season for the Hoosier Heartland Conference champs.

"This year I feel like we've been super close, a really tight family," she said. "None of us have attitudes ever, we're all just super close friends, so I think that carries onto the court.

"We've strengthened our doubles this year too, so that's really helped us out."

Also in Wednesday's match, Eastern No. 2 singles player Callie Sargent won 6-0, 6-0, the No. 1 doubles team of Kaylee Weeks and Morgan White won 6-2, 6-2, and the No. 2 team of Kristina Standish and Addison Ream won 6-3, 6-1.

Tipton picked up a point at No. 3 singles where Mary Tragesser-Tina won 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).


No. 1 singles player Madison Layden, No. 3 player Klair Merrell and the No. 2 doubles team of Katie Neher and Olivia Hodson each won 6-0, 6-0. No. 2 singles player Allison Miller won 6-1, 6-0. And the No. 1 team of Kendall Bostic and Jessie Jones won 6-0, 6-1.

Layden and the Bostic-Jones team both improved to 16-1. Merrell moved to 15-1, Miller moved to 15-2 and the Neher-Hodson team improved to 14-3.

Three-time defending sectional champion Northwestern (11-0) advances to face Kokomo at 4 p.m. today in the semifinals.

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Pedro Velazco has been a sportswriter at the Kokomo Tribune since 1999.