Eastside junior a natural in any sport
TIM HAYES BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Taylor Clay has made it look easy lately, beating defenders on the way to converting a layup from dribbling, wrestling away a rebound in the suit, or frustrating the ball handler she’s guarding to commit a turnover.
Still, the Eastside High School junior had some difficulties on Saturday afternoon when she was put on the spot and asked which of the three sports in which she excels is her favorite.
“A difficult question,” Clay said. “I’m not really sure. Whatever sporting season I’m in, I’m excited.”
Clay is pretty pumped these days and rightly so, having played a major role in helping Eastside reach the semifinals of the VHSL Class 1 Girls’ Basketball State Tournament. The Spartans (23-5) go head-to-head with JI Burton (17-11) at 7 p.m. today at the David J. Prior Convocation Center on the campus of the College at Wise of the University of Virginia.
Here is a question that is not difficult to answer.
“She’s the best athlete at Eastside High School,” said Spartans coach Terri Anne Hill Funk. “Probably the best athlete, period.”
The evidence supports it.
There is the versatility on the volleyball court.
“There are kids where you might be able to pick something that impresses you about them,” said Eastside volleyball coach Brianne Casteel Bailey. “Taylor is not one of those kids. That’s because a lot of things about Taylor impress me, from her raw athletic ability to her mental toughness, to how well she can be coached and how she impacts a game just by being on the ground.”
Clay is a confident third baseman on the softball field who can swing the bat with the best.
“She’s a dynamic player to have on your team,” said Eastside softball coach Suzi Atwood. “One hundred percent positive energy with laser focus.”
Clay has overcome adversity after a cruciate ligament tear cut short her 2021-22 basketball campaign and wiped out her entire sophomore season of softball.
Rehabilitation has been tough, but Clay’s comeback has seen her be at an even higher level than before.
“I was pretty upset that it happened last year,” Clay said. “I was mentally really ready to get back in and I appreciate it more now.”
Without the large brace on her left leg, you would never know that she had such a serious injury at any point in her career. Especially with the way she’s been acting lately.
She recorded 29 points, five rebounds, five steals, five assists and dominated the second half with a triumph over Twin Valley in the semifinals of the Region 1D tournament.
Her latest stats in Friday night’s 71-49 win in the state quarterfinals against Fort Chiswell included 38 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and two assists.
JI Burton coach Terry Sturgill knows containing Clay will be a key factor in the state semifinals. The Raiders took advantage of Clay’s foul troubles to secure a win over Eastside in the Region 1D title game.
“She’s the engine of this team,” Sturgill said. “She’s a tough, smart player and can take over a game at any time.”
Clay is part of a versatile attack for the Raiders.
Sophomore guard Azzy Hammons already has more than 1,000 career points.
Senior Reagan McCoy is an elite rebounder while Lexi Carter, Shelby Stanley, Kaylie Rasnick and Brooklyn Johnson all contributed solid stats in the win over Fort Chiswell.
“The team and the coaching – I can’t say enough about that,” Clay said. “We work well together and my teammates open up opportunities for me. Teams have to respect Azzy because she’s a great shooter and that opens things up for everyone.”
Despite her status as one of Southwest Virginia’s top athletes, Clay is humble – as humble as she is talented.
“She’s the most selfless player we have,” Funk said. “She’s the guy who stays after that and cleans the locker room after she’s got 20 points and she’s giving out eight assists and hauling in nine rebounds.”
This much is known: Clay is a leader in all sports and in all seasons.
“Their work ethic and competitiveness,” Funk said. “If she doesn’t win at something, you can count on her to work harder and win next time.”