‘One of a kind’: Four-sport star finished as one of Skyline’s most decorated student-athletesJan 05, 2021 11:33AM ● By Travis Barton
Claire Whisenant was named the Female Athlete of the Year in 2020 at Skyline High School. (Photo by Kenzi Lynn Photography)
By Travis Barton | [email protected]
Claire Whisenant could teach you a thing or two about time management.
The 2020 Skyline graduate played four sports in high school, completed the demanding IB program, took AP classes, and found opportunities for community service.
But was she successful in all these endeavors?
Whisenant not only survived her schedule, she excelled.
She was named Skyline’s female athlete of the year. She was a team captain and defensive stalwart on the basketball team. She was a three-time First Team All-State for golf winning multiple Utah Junior PGA tournaments. She lettered in both cross country and track.
And that’s just for sports.
Whisenant finished high school with a cumulative 4.0 GPA. She was the math department’s scholar of the year, a national merit finalist and scored a 35 on her ACT. She holds a Utah seal of biliteracy for Spanish. She was also named Academic All-State for both cross country and basketball.
“What’s most impressive is she's been able to handle such an incredible athletic load and still have time to be a superb student,” said her Skyline counselor Chris Krueger, who also serves as the school’s IB coordinator.
Despite all her accomplishments, Whisenant has remained humble.
“I was a good student in high school and an athlete, and I look back and am embarrassed at my performance by comparison,” Krueger said. “If I had her kind of record, I'd be screaming my name from the top of Mount Olympus.”
Her basketball coach, Sam White, wondered how she does it all and can keep both feet on the ground.
“I don't know how she fits it all in,” he said. “I don't know how she does it and is still really down to earth, not snotty, doesn't come off as this person who is better than everybody.”
For Whisenant, she credits her coaches and teachers for being flexible with her schedule and made organizing her workload more manageable. But said she also learned how to be more efficient, fighting any urge to procrastinate, utilizing her spare time during classes.
“In the middle of basketball season, if you have games Tuesday and Friday, you can't wait to start a project Tuesday night because then you're going to be at the school all night,” she said.
Then take into account, that she participates in Skyline’s IB program, what Krueger describes as “the most rigorous public school academic program in the state of Utah.”
“Most of my athletes choose athletics, they drop out of the program because they like sports. Others typically do the IB program half-heartedly,” he said. “Claire has been able to do both with gusto.
“She's the most successful student-athlete I've ever had complete the program.”
Whisenant admits there was only one moment she ever “kind of considered” dropping something. She was “staring down” her extended essay, a 4,000-word research paper students write the summer and fall of senior year.
“I was staring it down and I was looking at all these sports and I was like, ‘how does IB really help me? Do I really want to spend all this time writing this essay and doing all these other papers for classes? And I have college applications,’” she recalled, listing off some of her workload. “After a minute I thought, ‘I've put in all this work already, enjoyed my classes with my peers and no matter what, I would be taking a similar class schedule anyways.’ So I just decided it’d be a few extra papers and tests and to make it fit.”
For her research paper, she chose a history topic on the pioneer handcart companies (she had distant relatives who were involved in it). History papers tend to be more difficult, possibly even more so for someone more STEM focused. Krueger encouraged her to do an easier subject.
The first draft of the paper was “fair,” Krueger said, and gave her “copious feedback.”
Whisenant thought the rough draft was “decent,” but her score came back and said it was demoralizing. “What have I got myself into?” she asked.
Her response? She spent her entire fall break fixing it. The result?
“She gave me a final product two weeks later that was just superb,” Krueger said. “One of the strongest history extended essays I've ever had handed in.”
Whisenant said it was something she could be proud of. “I was glad I pushed myself, even though it was really rough then.”
That love of a real challenge drives Whisenant. Maybe nowhere is that more apparent, than her different sporting arenas.
Coach White came to Skyline the summer before Whisenant’s junior year. His first impression was obvious, she got a concussion on the second day of open gym.
“She didn’t hold back, she wasn’t timid. I could tell she was a competitor right off the bat,” he said.
In addition to the competitiveness, and an accurate shooter, she was renowned for her defense. White said he told her that she would play all 32 minutes and guard the other team’s best player.
He remembered their first game against Jordan, whose star player averaged 25 per game. Whisenant held her to four points.
“The opportunity to guard that is so rewarding because even if you mess up, well they're the best player out there. I think it’s kind of fun,” she said. “I really loved having a specific role on the team this year and knowing every game going into it that my role was to stop that one player.”
She attributed her defending abilities to her years of running, whether in soccer or track and cross country.
“If you can run the court and keep up then you can play solid defense for every possession,” she said. “That's something I loved about it, it was kind of just like this determination to stay in front of your player and not let them get past.”
It was her leadership that maybe stood out the most. Kenny James, a former basketball coach at Skyline who now coaches the boys and girls golf teams, including Whisenant, thought she was “the glue” of the basketball team.
“She was the leader, the selfless one,” James said.
White said it was obvious early on she would be a captain. “She's got such an array of different experiences. She's a motivator, knows how to hold people accountable. I could rely on her to be the coach on the floor.”
That leadership and athletic ability carried over into her golf game, possibly her best sport.
She started playing golf with her family. Her older brother played in high school and in seventh grade, began to take the sport more seriously.
James remembered how tough and determined she was coming in as a freshman taking one of the older girl’s spots as the No. 3 golfer on the squad. Her iron game is consistent James said, her long game is what she enjoys the most.
Krueger described her as someone with a large amount of foresight, this ability to think through outcomes. And there is no better place for that than the golf course.
“She is a smart player who limits her mistakes,” James said. “If her driver isn’t working, then she’ll simplify and use her 3-wood.
“She doesn't get herself in trouble doing dumb things on holes she shouldn't,” James said. “I always liked that she was a very cerebral player.”
White noted she’s capable of compartmentalizing different things and “probably one of the more mentally tough people I know either adult or teenager.”
Whisenant’s accomplishments on the golf course featured top 10 finishes at the high school state championships and various victories in the Utah PGA Junior Series. She took her golfing talents to Pomona College in Claremont, California (a school with only an 8% acceptance rate).
When you include her running both track and cross country as well, it was easy to understand why she was named the school’s athlete of the year, presented to her by her basketball coach.
“I’m grateful that they've been so supportive of me doing lots of things and not trying to stick me to their one sport and it just makes me happy that I left a path behind me at Skyline and I'll get to look back and watch my younger friends play in their sports and see how they do,” she said. “It’s a special place.”
While Whisenant is now graduated, don’t expect her coaches to forget about her anytime soon.
“She's pretty special,” James said. “You can't replace her, you're not going to find another Claire Whisenant anytime soon.”
“I'm lucky to know her,” White said. “I'm a better coach because I got to coach her. I'm a better person because I got to know her. I just don't think we're going to see another Claire for a long time.
“She's one of kind.”