ADA — As a rule, freshmen are looked upon as the future of any school’s athletic program.

But since Jourdan Clark and Taylor Howard arrived on campus, coaches at Ada High have viewed the pair in the present tense.

Clark made an immediate impact on Ada athletics last fall, when she pitched the Lady Cougar softball team (which had won just one game in 2004) to a winning record, then she and Howard finished the basketball season in Ada’s backcourt rotation on a team that reached the Class 5A state tournament with a line-up that featured five underclassmen while the team’s only senior, Joy Barrick, recovered from a broken hand.

This spring, Clark and Howard have gone their separate ways (athletically, at least) to pursue state titles in sports emphasizing individual effort more than team play. And, despite their tender years, both girls have a chance to be among the best in Oklahoma.

Clark is one of five freshmen who make up the Ada girls track squad, and she has established herself as one the state’s top hurdlers in her first varsity season. Howard, meanwhile, has traded in her sneakers for spikes and has her sights set on the 5A state golf tournament.

“Jourdan and I are probably best friends,” said Howard, who, along with another freshman, Katie Uhac, makes up the Ada girls golf team. “We weren’t really friends when we were little, but we started playing basketball together when we were in the fifth or sixth grade.”

Clark and Howard have come a long way since grade school, and both showed a lot of maturity during Ada’s state tournament run in basketball earlier this year.

One of the state’s best pure point guards despite her age, Clark ignited the Lady Cougars’ late-season surge with her shooting, rebounding and ball-handling. Howard also showed surprising maturity for a freshman, leading Ada in rebounding in a couple of playoff games (despite standing just 5-6) and hitting some big shots.

“I probably like team sports a little better (than golf) because you get to know everybody,” Howard said. “But I try to work hard at both sports. It’s hard to decide which one is my favorite, because I love both of them.”

“I just try to do the best I can at everything I do,” said Clark, who is the only Ada High girl athlete to excel in three sports this school year. I probably like basketball and track a little more than softball. In track, you’re by yourself and you can really focus on what you can do as an individual, but in basketball you can focus on what you can do to make the team better.”

Clark competes in the 100 and 300-meter hurdles and in the 100-yard dash, and Ada track coach Mart Leming said his freshman star has a chance to qualify for the 5A state meet in all three and to medal in both hurdle events if she can put it all together on the right day.

“I wouldn’t call her THE favorite in the 100, but I would call her one of the favorites right now,” Leming said of Clark, who has the fastest time in 5A (:14.41) and the second fastest in the state (behind only Tulsa Union senior Daniell Gilchrist, a multiple state champ in both hurdle events). “She has pretty good technique that I think she learned at an early age, and she’s got speed.

“I had a pretty good idea that she could be this good, because she ran so well last year,” he added. “She’s matured and she’s stronger this year, and her work ethic is just great.”

Clark ran her personal and state best at the Southeast 6 Conference meet two weeks ago (shaving seven-tenths of a second off her previous best), and she also won the 300-meter hurdles that day in a time of :46.74 — just a hair slower than the best in 5A this season (a :46.71 by Tulsa East Central’s Antoinia Breckenridge).

“She’s going to have to run great races at the state meet to win both hurdles, but if Jourdan runs her best race, I think she has as good a chance as any of those other top girls,” Leming said. “She has a drive to be successful, and she loves what she’s doing. When you combine those things with the physical talent she has, you have a chance to have something pretty special.”

Clark (whose stepfather, Chris Berris, is an assistant coach on the Cougar football team) said she and Leming will continue to work on her technique in the two weeks remaining before the state track meet, and, like her coach, she is cautiously optimistic that she can be a strong factor against the best hurdlers in Oklahoma.

“I feel pretty good,” Clark noted. “I’m getting in better shape, my technique’s gotten a whole lot better, and I’ve gotten faster, too.

“I’d really like to win state,” she added. “It didn’t hit me until i ran that :14.4 that I had a pretty good chance. My technique still needs to get a lot better. I’m going to do a lot of running to make myself faster and try to get stronger.”

Howard’s golf coach is Ada boys basketball coach Scott Lowrance, and she said that, although he isn’t a constant at practice, Lowrance has helped her with her game this spring.

“He doesn’t go to practice with us, but he takes us to tournaments and he helps me a lot,” Howard said. “He watches my swing and tells me how to correct it.”

Howard shot a season-best 80 to win one tournament and was second at another event during the five-tournament schedule that she and Ada High’s other female golfer, freshman Katie Uhac, have played this spring, and Lowrance said Howard has a chance to be among the best in the state before her high school career is over.

“I think she has the potential to be really, really good if she has the desire,” said Lowrance, who is a “pretty good” golfer in his own right and who, along with Eddie Jacobs, assists boys coach Mark Kedy with the golf team. “She has a natural swing, and I think golf is one of her stronger sports. I think if she’s willing to work, she could be a great high school player. You don’t do what she’s done this spring as a freshman unless you’re really good.

Like Clark, Howard (who can drive the ball 250 yards) said she has a lot of work to do — especially with her irons and putter — in preparation for this week’s regional tournament in Claremore on a course that is new to her.

“Driving is probably the strongest part of my game — when I hit it straight,” Howard said. “Sometimes I putt okay, but driving is probably my strong suit. I need to work on my putting and chipping around the green. That’s what gives me strokes.”

Howard, who started following her stepfather, John Siegle, around the golf course when she was five years old, said she was immediately attracted to the game because “I just liked hitting the ball far”. She started playing tournaments at age eight with golf clubs that “I think (Siegle) had cut down for me that belonged to somebody else”, she won her first event in a small field of 11-and-under players, and she said she has a chance to do well at this year’s state tournament (at Lakeview in Ardmore the weekend after regionals) if she can qualify.

“I haven’t played Claremore before, so I have no idea what it’s like,” she said. “I think we’re going to go up there and play a practice round the day before. Ardmore is a public course, and it’s pretty nice. I’ve played there a lot, so I know the course pretty well.

“It just depends on how I play that day, but (Ardmore) is pretty short from the women’s tees, and that’s good for me,” she added. “On the par 4s, I can get pretty close to hitting the greens in two. To me, it’s easier playing a course I know. It’s easier than just guessing.”