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Competition turns to inspiration in Prep Talk Athlete of the Week voting

Summer Clark was a fierce competitor for the undefeated state champion Williamsville East softball team this spring. And through the first four rounds of The Buffalo News' Prep Talk Athlete of the Week playoffs, the sophomore pitcher received the most votes of any male or female in the competition.

But when it came down to the championship round this week, Clark was happy to take the loss and cede the spotlight to an athlete she felt was more deserving.

With Clark’s endorsement, St. Mary’s senior volleyball player Hannah Mulhern has been elected as the inaugural champion of the Prep Talk Athlete of the Week playoffs, presented by Sgroi Financial.

Mulhern overcame multiple offseason operations to remove a benign brain tumor and played through persistent pain during her final season with the Lancers.

As a member of the Williamsville East volleyball team, Clark played against Mulhern and St. Mary’s early in the regular season. She later learned what her opponent had been battling.

“I saw her story on the news and it choked me up a little bit,” Clark said. “It’s just so inspiring. To have brain surgery and come back to play the sport she loves — I respect her so much.”

After seeing she was matched up against Mulhern when the final Prep Talk Athlete of the Week playoffs poll opened Monday, Clark consulted with her family before announcing that night in a tweet she wished to concede the race.

“If I was a person looking at the polls," Clark said, "I would vote for her.”

Mulhern was touched by the gesture. She expressed her gratitude in a tweet reply and again when she and Clark spoke face-to-face for the first time Tuesday afternoon at St. Mary’s.

“I was humbled by all of her kind words,” Mulhern said. “It was so classy. Her and her family. Everything she said was so kind. She is so sweet and I think we could be fast friends.”

Williamsville East pitcher Summer Clark. (Harry Scull Jr./News file photo)

Even after Clark conceded, voting for Mulhern continued. She has received more than 50,000 votes.

Mulhern said she paid close attention to Williamsville East’s softball season because some of her former Niagara Frontier Volleyball Club teammates were part of the Flames’ lineup.

East went 27-0, winning the Class A state title for the first time in school history and finishing the season ranked No. 9 nationally by MaxPreps.com. Clark, who has committed to play for the University of Missouri, was selected as a sophomore All-American by MaxPreps.

“It’s amazing, everything they have been able to do,” Mulhern said. “And Summer, she’s such a phenomenal athlete.”

Mulhern, a two-time All-Western New York selection who led St. Mary’s to a state Catholic championship in her junior season, plans to play club volleyball for the University of Virginia. She continues to deal with lingering pain from her brain tumor operation.

“I’m still not 100 percent. I still struggle a lot and am on a lot of medications,” Mulhern said. “But I’m happy with everything I was able to overcome throughout the season. Our team didn’t get the end result that I would’ve liked to see, but I’m still so proud of everything we went through together and everything that we were able to accomplish.”

St. Mary's Hannah Mulhern. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

Mulhern might have also found inspiration for her career path, after developing an interest in campaigning during the Prep Talk Athlete of the Week playoffs.

“I have thought about it, actually,” she said. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for politics. I might be a little too nice. I have so many supporters, my family and all my friends, and it was a lot of fun watching them show their support for me.”

Voting for the Boys Prep Talk Athlete of the Week playoffs continues through noon Thursday between Lockport's Malik Brooks and West Seneca West's John Speyer.

Vote in the Prep Talk Boys Athlete of the Week playoffs (championship)

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