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Athlete of the Year: Kyndal Clark

Amazon introduced the Kindle Fire on Nov. 15.

The tablet’s magic screen is already transforming e-readership.

The Drake women’s basketball team introduced its own “Kyndal Fire” on Nov. 2.

Freshman Kyndal Clark’s magic touch is already transforming Drake women’s basketball. The Knapp Center crowd is catching on quickly.

This season, a “Kyndal Fire” chant routinely resonated from Spike’s Army.

With her sharp shooting, relentless defense and crunch-time composure, Clark’s fiery play is entertaining (and pun-worthy) for fans and teammates alike.

That’s why I’m nominating Kyndal Clark for The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year.

Sharp shooting: last season, senior Rachael Hackbarth commanded Drake’s offense. Leading the Missouri Valley Conference in scoring and rebounding, Hackbarth’s name graced headline after headline. Despite fans’ Hackbarth hoopla, Clark immediately captured MVC attention as well. Alongside two MVC Newcomer of the Week nods, Clark averaged 9.8 points per game, only ranking behind Hackbarth in scoring.

Drake fans noted Clark’s early offensive promise, particularly from behind the arc. Clark tacked golden arch upon golden arch onto the Knapp’s McDonald’s trey tally.

Her 3-point prowess wasn’t limited to MVC showdowns, though. On Dec. 11, the Bulldogs defeated Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin in Madison, 65-54. Clark drained a career-high four 3-pointers against the Badgers en route to 17 total points.

Clark finished the 2011-12 campaign with a 35.9 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, sinking 46 3-pointers and ranking 11th in the MVC.

I’m lovin’ it.

Relentless defense: Clark is the Bulldogs’ go-to defensive guard. Guarding with grit and agility, Clark commits every spec of her 5-foot-5-inch frame to defense. Even when defending veteran MVC players like Missouri State junior Christiana Shorter, her squeaky shoes were in step.

En route to 33 steals this season, Clark routinely scrambled, dived and even tumbled for the basketball.

Only the crowd’s chanting silenced her squeaky sneakers.

Crunch-time composure: throughout the 2011-12 campaign, Clark’s crunch-time composure proved game changing. Let’s take a trip down Buzzer-Beater Lane.

On Jan. 27 against Bradley, Clark’s first bucket didn’t fall until there was 18:38 in the second half, but the dwindling time didn’t unnerve her play. She scored all of her 17 points in the game’s final 19 minutes and boasted a perfect free throw shooting night, going 6-for-6 from the charity stripe.

Clark’s last-second shooting also fueled Drake’s improbable State Farm MVC Championship run. In the quarterfinals against No. 2 seed Illinois State, Clark’s buzzer-beating layup clinched Drake’s first trip to the semifinals since 2009. Just one day later versus No. 3 Wichita State, she nailed two free throws with less than a minute to go to seal the Bulldogs’ championship bid.

Though Drake didn’t take the MVC title, Clark’s poise prevailed.

Finally, Clark’s positive attitude is award-worthy.

On Feb. 2, with just over 10 seconds remaining on the game clock, Drake handed the ball to Clark as a fouled-out Hackbarth watched from the sideline. Clark’s final shot deflected off Shorter’s hands, securing Missouri State’s 69-66 victory.

Even after Shorter’s heartbreaking block, Clark greeted her fans with grateful smiles.

With her smart-shooting, gutsy defending and buzzer-beaters, Clark deserves to win The Times-Delphic Drake Athlete of the Year award.

P.S. Kyndal Clark accomplished all this as a freshman.

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