Rachel Clancy looks to step up with Kristina Santiago out

Senior guard Rachel Clancy has always been one of the main contributors for the Cal Poly women's basketball team. This season, that hasn't changed. Even without forward Kristina Santiago. Clancy is averaging 13.8 points per game. Nick Camacho - Mustang Daily File Photo

Guard Rachel Clancy of Dublin, Ireland, started playing basketball at the age of 7 — on the boys’ team.  By the time she hit 9, her coach predicted she would end up with a scholarship in basketball one day. He didn’t know then that the full scholarship would bring her 6,000 miles away from home to play ball.

Now a 22-year-old biological sciences graduate student, Clancy is one of the leading scorers for the Cal Poly women’s basketball team. And now with reigning Big West Player of the Year Kristina Santiago out for the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee, Clancy is in the spotlight.

And she said is up for the challenge.

“’T’ (Santiago) was always someone there that if the shot clock was running down, you knew you could throw it to T and she would do something to get the ball in the basket,” Clancy said. “That’s a big thing to have to replace but I am going to keep doing what I’m doing. I don’t think there’s any more pressure.”
Clancy has started all four games this season, racking up 55 of the team’s overall 267 points. She scored 15 points in the most recent game, when the Mustangs fell to  Illinois on Nov. 22.

Head coach Faith Mimnaugh said this blend of personality and athleticism is what makes Clancy such a valuable player. She accredits Clancy with being a tremendous leader and a dynamic shooter.

“I think from a leadership perspective that is probably her greatest asset,” Mimnaugh said. “She’s been very vocal in trying to keep the team energized and focused in whatever her objectives are for practice and certainly for the games.”

Mimnaugh, who frequently uses bench players, has enhanced Clancy’s role by giving her more minutes. Mimnaugh has no qualms with Clancy playing the entire game if she needs her to.

“She will bury anybody,” Mimnaugh said. “She can run forever and maintain the same kind of intensity level for an entire game, that’s pretty significant.”

But Mimnaugh values Clancy for more than just her athleticism.

“Who she is as a person is perhaps the biggest blessing we’ve had in our program,” Mimnaugh said. “She is one of the greatest human beings in the planet.”

Mathematics sophomore Ashley Cascio is one of Clancy’s closest friends on and off the court.  Clancy was the first person Cascio met when she came to Cal Poly.

“She is dedicated: whenever she has free time she works out more and is always doing something to get ready and play,” Cascio said. “I can see that and it makes me want to do more. She always does jump roping after practice so then I started jump roping.”

In addition to jump roping with Cascio, Clancy would condition outside of practice with Santiago. Both players focused on finding their chemistry together on the court.

Even though the two won’t be playing together anytime soon, Santiago has confidence in her teammate.

“Rachel’s an amazing player and with or without me she’s going to be a scorer and a leader on the court,” Santiago said. “She’s going to get a lot more touches now but Rachel is just Rachel, she’s going to play her game no matter what. There’s no point in changing it, what she does right now is so key to the team.”

It has been a rough start for the team with injuries, but Clancy said they have responded well. Cal Poly usually has around 17 players on the team but it seems now there are 12 to 13 players when it comes to practice because of injuries, Clancy said.

Despite all the injuries, she remains one of the healthiest players on the team. She has only missed one day of practice due to sickness in all her years in college.

“I’m really lucky when it comes to no injuries but I think sometimes you make your own luck,” Clancy said. “I go to bed plenty early so I feel like at practice I’m able to respond quicker. I never miss practice. I’m always healthy, fit and ready to go.”

Clancy’s dedication to the game keeps her “fit and ready to go.” During summers, she would play on the Irish National Team. The team was cut this summer because of funding.

But Clancy did not take a break. Instead, she focused on her own development. This included a weight program and running with weighted vests. The conditioning over summer improved her athleticism.

“I want to be in great shape so I can contribute as much as I can, as often as I can,” Clancy said. “I want to be physically ready. I think I did a good job preparing myself for that. It’s working because I don’t feel tired at all.”

Clancy gives credit to her parents for supporting her through her basketball career. They supported her when she moved from Ireland to pursue basketball at the highest level in college. They also supported her when she deferred her master’s degree program at Trinity College, Dublin to play as a Mustang for a little while longer.

Clancy’s mother, Sheila Clancy, visited Clancy last week. She saw her daughter play against both Loyola Marymount and Illinois.

“It’s great to travel now and actually see her getting time because it’s very tough for parents, especially when you travel so far, and for a player not to get minutes,” Sheila said. “For the last two years, she’s gotten a lot of minutes. She’s playing very well; she seems to be a bit of a leader.”

Sheila noticed that Clancy’s hard work and dedication to the sport paid off.

“Everybody puts in a lot of effort but very few people leave their country and leave their family,” Sheila said. “It’s been tough in a lot of ways and I think now she is getting her reward — now she is getting the time, getting the minutes, getting the respect of her teammates. And she has earned it.”

Her dedication has not gone unnoticed. Cal Poly athletics director Alison Cone acknowledged Clancy’s commitment to the team.

“She is a very skilled player but there are two qualities that stand out to me even more than her exceptional skill and that’s leadership and she is smart,” Cone said. “She’s smart so she’s not going to overstep her role. I think she’ll have more of a leadership role now, but she’s also surrounded by talented players. She is very much a team player, she’s not about Rachel Clancy — she’s about the Mustangs and helping the team win. Such a great quality.”