PILOT MOUNTAIN — Occasionally, one encounters a student-athlete who fits the old adage “jack of all trades and master of none.”
And then there’s Bethany Clayton, the jack of all athletic trades — and the master of all.
The 5’10” East Surry High School senior has a list of achievements in three different sports that is unmatched by anyone in the area today. Clayton has earned All-Conference honors in volleyball, basketball and softball, All-Region honors in volleyball and softball, and was the only 1A player named to the N.C. Volleyball Coaches’ Association’s All-State team for 2017.
Clayton was the rare high school student-athlete to be recruited by scholarship programs in three sports. Going into her senior year, she already had a good idea what direction she would go — but that didn’t stop several college programs in all three from trying.
“She’s just an unreal athlete,” said East Surry volleyball and girls basketball coach Caleb Gilley. “She was picking up some Division II and Division III looks for basketball, and I know she has in softball. Not many kids can say they were picking up scholarship looks in three sports.”
Back in February, Clayton made a verbal commitment to one of her volleyball suitors, the Charlotte 49ers. On Wednesday, the first day of the spring signing period, she made it official, and the school’s athletic website wasted no time in announcing the addition of the newest member of the volleyball team.
A lengthy recruitment process that saw Clayton’s stock rising in the eyes of college scouts in all three sports culminated in a trio of Division I offers in volleyball, her preferred sport. She chose Charlotte’s offer over Furman and Appalachian State.
“I was offered by Furman and App State, but I just liked (Charlotte’s) campus, and the coaches were super-nice,” said Clayton. “I just knew Charlotte was where I needed to go.”
Clayton joins the 49ers off a senior season where she led East Surry to a 26-3 record, was co-Player of the Year in the Northwest 1A Conference, and led all 1A players in the state in kills (420) and in kills per set (4.8). She had 51 more kills than any other 1A player in the state, and was 12th with 372 digs. She was one of five players from around the country featured in a national highlight reel on Hudl.com in September.
Remember what we said about master of all athletic trades? It’s even more true of Clayton in volleyball.
“She’s been a great, great player, probably one of the best volleyball players to come through this area,” said Gilley, who coached Clayton throughout her volleyball career. “What’s made her so good is the work ethic that she has. She’s one of those kids who’s not just a three-to-five volleyball player. She’s in here on off-days, she’s here after practice, and you can tell by the results.”
Gilley called Clayton up to the varsity late in her freshman year. She was a member of the team when the Lady Cardinals reached the 1A state championship match in 2014, although she didn’t play that day. Early in her career, the coach deployed her at every position on the court, but she settled in at setter in her sophomore and junior years. As a sophomore, she was third among the state’s 1A players with 673 assists, and 24th in digs, with 239.
East Surry had lost a lot of talent from its powerhouse 2014 team, and it took the Lady Cardinals a while to find their stride that season. East finished second to Mount Airy in the regular season, but then won the conference tournament with Clayton earning MVP honors, something she’d get accustomed to in the seasons to come.
As a junior, Clayton was as dominating as a player can be out of the setter position. She was second in 1A with 823 assists, 10th with 75 service aces, and even managed 133 kills, becoming a master of the on-two attack, where the setter takes the bump and attacks, rather than set one of the hitters. In a match against county rival North Surry, Clayton had the unlikely stat line of 37 assists and 15 kills, committing just one error that day. A few weeks later, she and her teammates finished an unbeaten run through the NW1A with another tournament title, and a second straight MVP award for Clayton, who had 41 assists, 10 digs and six blocks in the championship match against the Lady Bears.
“We always played well as a team when we played Mount Airy, because of the rivalry,” she said. “Mount Airy never beat me in volleyball except in my sophomore year, and then we came back and won the tournament.”
Despite all of her brilliance on the volleyball court, Clayton had her eyes on a future in college softball before her outstanding 2016 volleyball season.
“I was focusing on softball, but then in my junior season, it just sparked with volleyball, and I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.
Clayton, a member of the softball team all four years, didn’t even play basketball in high school until her junior year, when Gilley convinced her to come out for hoops. After shaking off the rust, she averaged 12.2 points and nine rebounds per game and earned All-Conference honors.
Gilley moved Clayton from setter to outside hitter before her senior season of volleyball. After all, when you have someone who can do it all, why not?
“Hitting was always my favorite. I was very happy when he moved me,” she recalled. “I just went out there and played. I tried to be the best for my teammates and I hope they did the same for me.”
She had seven matches of 20 or more kills as a senior outside hitter. East played several matches against highly-rated teams and Clayton performed brilliantly in two meetings against 2A West runner-up North Surry, 4A West Forsyth, and her final high school volleyball match against Polk County.
Just like the question of ‘what sport’ came the question of ‘what position’ colleges should recruit her for. Clayton said that Charlotte projects her as an outside hitter, where she will team up with travel ball teammate Tyra Galloway, who played for North Surry in 2015. Galloway, a 6’1” middle who played this season at Davie County, inked with Charlotte during the fall signing period.
“We played on the same club team this club season, I’m excited to play with her,” said Clayton.
After the volleyball season at East, Clayton went on to play her senior year of basketball, averaging 15.7 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. She had 19 double-doubles and two triple-doubles, and probably would have been NW1A Player of the Year if she didn’t play in a conference with the two-time state champions. As it was, she did win MVP of the Mount Pleasant Christmas Tournament, during which she had a triple-double with 17 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over an Albemarle team that won 21 games. East made it to the second round of the state playoffs before falling to eventual 1A West runner-up Murphy in Gilley’s last game as her coach.
“I’ll miss her a lot. I’ll miss her talent-wise. She was obviously the best player on the floor the past two of three years, no matter who we were playing, but I’ll miss her because she’s a great leader and a great person to be around,” he said.
His loss will be Charlotte head volleyball coach Karen Weatherington’s gain.
“We are excited to add Bethany Clayton to the 49er family,” she said Wednesday. “She is a highly sought after multi-sport athlete with limitless potential. Bethany will add depth to our outside hitter position and has the talent to impact us in the coming season.”
Clayton is currently wrapping up her softball career and hitting .554 as the Lady Cardinals’ second baseman and leadoff hitter. She is undoubtedly going to be in the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame someday. But the next stop is Charlotte, where she said she’s undecided on a major but leaning toward business administration.
“I’m super excited and very thankful to be able to play in college,” she said.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.