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STEPPING UP: Taylor Alston Has Taken Basketball Game to the Next Level as a Senior, Helping Lead Clarion to the PIAA Playoffs

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Taylor Alston set out during the offseason on an ambitious campaign to redefine herself as a basketball player.

Alston had always been a supporting actor. She wanted to be in more of a leading role for the Clarion girls basketball team as a senior.

The team needed her. She was going to do whatever it took.

(Pictured above, Taylor Alston/photos by Maria Wilson)

That meant hours in the gym, working on a variety of skills — mostly absorbing contact while finishing.

The results were startling for Alston.

“I wanted to step up my game, score more and be more of an offensive threat,” Alston said. “So I really worked hard in the offseason with both my coaches (head Clarion girls basketball coach Sam Heeter and assistant Dave Constantino). That really paid off.

“I was very shocked,” Alston said of her improvement, especially on the offensive end. “I did not expect it, but it was really beneficial to see it all come together.”

Alston is leading the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game as well as rebounding at 6.8 boards per night, as Clarion heads into the first round of the PIAA Class A playoffs on Saturday against Berlin at Pitt-Johnstown.

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

“We worked a lot on finishing through contact,” Alston said. “My coach really put that on all of us, but also being able to read the defense and how they’re gonna play you because there’s a couple of different times that he’s like, ‘Hey, see what they do and then you make a decision based on that.’ So my confidence really went up with the help of both coaches and it was really nice.”

Alston’s scoring bump was a big boon for the Bobcats, especially early in the season. She had three 20-plus-point scoring nights in the first five games of the campaign, as Clarion was still searching for its identity.

Now, the team has found a groove. The Bobcats won their first non-consolation District 9 game in five years when they knocked off North Clarion in the first round.

“We definitely peaked at the right time,” Alston said. “And we’re still peaking. We had some growing pains in the beginning, like every team is going to have, of course, but we’ve really worked together. We’re still working together at the best time right now.”

Alston and Clarion would like nothing more than to pull off another postseason surprise against Berlin, the District 5 champion.

The Bobcats are a confident group and so is Alston.

“We’ve watched a lot of film on this team and if we play the game that we want to, we have a really good chance to be in a position to win,” Alston said.

Should Clarion come out on top Saturday afternoon, it will be the first state playoff victory for the program since 2013-14 when it reached the state Class A quarterfinals.

Alston doesn’t want her season — and career — to end.

“It’s been on my mind,” she admitted. “I’ve been thinking about it. It’s going to be sad.”

Alston, who was also a key piece to the run of success for the Clarion volleyball team during her career, has chosen not to play a sport in college.

Instead, she will focus on getting her degree in occupational therapy at Slippery Rock University.

She will find an outlet for her competitiveness somehow, she said.

“I’m going to look into intramurals for sure,” Alston said. “I’m starting in occupational therapy at Slippery Rock University to get my doctorate. I’m super excited about it because I always felt a connection with younger kids and I want to work in pediatrics.”

Alston may also coach a sport one day.

That idea was first floated during this season when she helped craft a game plan. She isn’t completely sold on that idea, though.

“Oh, I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far in my life yet,” she said, chuckling. “Mr. C wants me to. I had this whole little game plan drawn up and he was like, ‘You’d make a good coach.’ And that was that. I haven’t thought about that. Just taking it one step at a time.”

Alston recognized how fortunate she has been in her sports career at Clarion.

She was a part of two state championship teams with Clarion volleyball. That made this season harder for Alston to take.

The Bobcats struggled at times and didn’t meet their high expectations.

“I was really down in the dumps for a while after volleyball for just a bunch of different reasons, personally,” she said. “The culture wasn’t right. I mean, there’s a lot I can learn from it and take into different sports. If I ever decided to be a coach, there are a lot of things I learned from that.”

It’s made this basketball season even more fulfilling for Alston.

“Getting into basketball, having coaches who believed in me and a team that believes in each other was great,” Alston said. “The connection was true. We could all feel it. It was nice to have success.”

When it is all over for Alston, she can look back at a plethora of memories.

One thing has already stuck out in her mind.

“I gotta say, there’s so much work that has been put into volleyball and basketball. So much I have learned about hard work — I’m in the gym right now,” Alston said. “Winning the state championship twice, I can put that in real life. The hard work can pay off. How much do you want it? How much do you want to work for it?”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.