It was a difficult decision for Mother McAuley Coach Ashley Clanton, but after seven seasons coaching the Mighty Macs basketball team, she is moving on.
Clanton resigned on April 17 to become the girls basketball coach at a high school in Georgia. She will stay at McAuley through the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Denny Clanton, Ashley’s husband, also resigned from his position as the varsity girls soccer coach effective at the end of the year, and the family will move to Georgia this summer.
“McAuley has been great to me. It’s hard to leave,” Ashley Clanton said. “Telling the girls was one of the hardest days of my life. It will be tough leaving. You feel like you’ve disappointed a lot of people, but we’re excited where we’re going.”
Clanton finished 152-68 in her tenure.
The Mighty Macs achieved dominant seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, posting an impressive 61-10 combined record.
Mother McAuley finished as Class 4A state runner-up this past season, setting a new program mark for single-season wins with a 34-3 record. Playing at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena in March, the Macs lost to Maine West 58-46 in the state championship game.
For Clanton, no single moment stood out; it was each player, each season and the continuing development of a program clearly back to its winning ways.
“You look back and think of all the kids I coached,” Clanton said. “That first group was a neat, special group. All these different years, we were fighting. We were building from the beginning. I’m so proud of all the kids.”
However, the runner-up team does have special meaning for Clanton.
“Each year, we took a step forward,” Clanton said. “I told the teams that we would arrive as a program. I never doubted it. The whole journey was so much fun. You coach good kids who played with their heart on their sleeves.”
Clanton, then Ashley Luke, was a standout player at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora during her playing days. She is currently 11th on the Illinois career points leaderboard for girls basketball with 2,885 points.
She had an impressive career at DePaul University and then coached for five seasons at Danville High School before taking the McAuley coaching job.
Clanton was also an assistant athletic director for McAuley.
“Ashley has done a great job building a quality program,” said Mother McAuley Athletic Director Laurie Jakubczak. “She made this program into one of the best in the state. We’re grateful for what she built, and we’re excited for what the program can do going forward.”
The high school is a state power in Georgia. Its girls basketball program has won 3 state titles since 2010.
Clanton said the Mighty Macs program will be just fine going forward as a new coach can build around leading scorer Jenna Badali and up-and-coming sophomore-to-be Bella Finnegan.
“We had kids who bought into the culture. You don’t always find kids like that,” Clanton said. “This is a position that will attract a lot of good coaches. The team gets to play in front of the best student section in the state. Almost the entire student body comes out for games.”
In his third year coaching the Mighty Macs soccer team, Denny Clanton will remain through the rest of the season.
McAuley is off to its best start in years with a 13-2-1 record.
Ashley and Denny Clanton have three children.
“It’s unexpected, but this opportunity came about,” Denny said. “As a family, it’s a tough decision for us, but the right one.”
Looking ahead to the final month of the season, Clanton doesn’t want the squad to be distracted. Some lofty goals still remain.
“I told them nothing changes,” Denny said. “I love coaching these girls, and I hope they like playing for me. They’ve bought in. We have the same potential and the same goals that we did at the beginning of the season.”
Clanton played professionally for a season with the Chicago Fire.
Mother McAuley will conduct a search for both coaching positions.
“We’re losing two outstanding people and coaches,” Jakubczak said. “They’ve done a great job building the programs, and we want to find coaches who continue to build on that success.”