Nov. 20, 2011 By Kate Whitney
By Kate Whitney
LAS VEGAS - Senior middle blocker Brianna Clarke looks to leave her legacy with the Bulldogs as she prepares for the final stretch of the season and life after college volleyball.
As the 'Dogs begin post season competition on Monday, Clarke is eight blocks shy of holding the all-time career blocking record for Fresno State of 437 blocks. The record is held by Suzie Regal and has not been surpassed since 1992.
"She's a great player," head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said. "She's certainly been an important attacker and defender in her four years."
However, the record is not what is on the minds of Clarke and Netherby-Sewell as they prepare to begin the WAC tournament.
"We're focused on winning at the end of the season," Netherby-Sewell said. "We still have some important matches to go, so we're hoping she gets those eight blocks to help us win."
Netherby-Sewell believes that the four-year starter will be an impact player for the success of the 'Dogs post season run.
"We're looking for her to be the smartest and most experienced player we have," Netherby-Sewell said of Clarke. "She's going to get kills, she's going to get blocks. She's hungry for a WAC title, she's hungry to get to the NCAA tournament and it's just a matter of putting that hunger into action."
In some ways, Clarke represents the first batch of student-athletes of Netherby-Sewell's program and the last who remember what the program was like prior to Netherby-Sewell's influence.
Clarke is the first of the seniors graduating who played for Netherby-Sewell for four years. She is the last player to be recruited by former head coach Ruben Nieves who coached the Bulldogs from 2005 to 2007.
"Bri has a loyalty to this program and that means quite a lot," Netherby-Sewell said. "She's a true Bulldog and loves being a Bulldog."
On top of becoming one of the all-time blocking leaders in school history, Clarke is also one of 10 athletes to break over 1,000 kills during her career at 1,017 and she is a two-time second-team All-WAC honoree.
Netherby-Sewell believes that her love for the game will be as much a part of her legacy as the records.
"Bri has always been a fan favorite," Netherby-Sewell said. "People like watching her play and opposing coaches don't like watching her play because she's an intimidating player when she's on. She's been a big imposing figure for us and I think that's what she's be remembered for."
It is her intensity and emotion while playing that Netherby-Sewell will miss most.
"When she is so into a match and so fired up after she comes down off of a block or kill and she puts her hands at her face and shows a lot of emotion, it is amazing to watch," Netherby-Sewell said. "When she's playing like that and puts her hands up by her face, I just love watching that. That's something I'll always remember about Bri."
Clarke is feeling many emotions as the teams takes its final strides of the season, but like Netherby-Sewell is focused on winning the games they have left.
"I have a lot of emotions going into the WAC tournament," Clarke said. "I'm just trying to harness them for my teammates so I can be the best player for them and be consistent on the court because that's what they need from me right now."
The end of the season marks the end of Clarke's Bulldog volleyball career.
"I was born and raised in Fresno so it feels awesome that I got to play here for four years," Clarke said. "I grew up watching Fresno State athletes and seeing what being a Bulldog was all about. I'm very grateful that I was recruited to play here."
Clarke feels as though she's taking more away from her four years at Fresno State than a degree and memories from the court.
"Playing volleyball for Fresno State has had such a positive impact on me because I've been able to take the skills I've learned on the court and apply them to my personal life," Clarke said. "I think volleyball has helped me become the kind of person that doesn't give up when things get tough and throw in the towel. I've learned to keep pushing through because it is worth it in the end."
For Clarke, the records are simply an added bonus of her time spent as a Bulldog.
"I honestly had no idea until like two weeks ago that I was even doing any of this," Clarke said. "So it was surprising and humbling that I could contribute to Fresno State and kind of give back for giving me the opportunity to play here."
One of her favorite things is that she was able to help build the volleyball program set by Netherby-Sewell.
"I think Lauren is a great coach and really teaches the fundamentals well," Clarke said. "To see the team transform from what it was to what it is now is kind of mind boggling at the leaps and bounds that we made in a short amount of time. Four years is not a lot of time to completely change a program."
Though the 'Dogs have their eyes set on the WAC Tournament for the time being, the thought of the end of the season is bittersweet for Clarke.
"It's sad to be leaving such a great school and a great program," Clarke said. "I was a part of something that a lot of people don't get to be a part of and that's rebuilding a program. That's very special and I really hold that close to my heart, so it's definitely a little sad to leave but I'm really excited to start a new chapter of my life."
"We Are Your Team!" --- The fifth-seeded Fresno State Bulldogs will battle the fourth-seeded and defending tournament champion Utah State Aggies on Monday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Orleans' Arena during opening round action of the 2011 Western Athletic Conference Tournament. Tickets are available at the Orleans Arena Box Office. The match will also be streamed live at wac.tv. Be sure to like Fresno State Athletics on Facebook and follow @FSAthletics on Twitter for the latest from Fresno State's journey at the tournament in Las Vegas.
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