Thou Shalt Steal
Basketball star breaks all kinds of records -- College, division, and all-college.
by Kaitlin McCarthy '06
When it comes to stealing, Stephanie Cleary '05 simply cannot be caught. The scene of her crimes? The basketball court.
Cleary's acts aren't exactly criminal (although the opposing team might have a different opinion); the 5'7" guard is an expert at stealing basketballs from her opponents. During the 2004 season Cleary averaged 5.5 steals per game for the Ithaca College women's basketball team, and by season's end she'd racked up 115 steals. She also became the eighth player in program history to score 1,000 points in a career.
As a junior Cleary became the first women's basketball player from Ithaca College ever to lead a Division III statistical category. But even more impressively, she topped all players from both men's and women's Division I and II teams. She racked up the highest single-season figures in all of college basketball in both steals per game and the total number of steals per season.
Despite her accomplishments, the Tappan, New York, native does not seem to be resting on her laurels. "I don't really think about it," she says. Perhaps her down-to-earth attitude is what makes her a valuable asset to the team both on and off the court. "She's a very intelligent player who sees and understands the game exceptionally well," says Coach Dan Raymond. "She is the rare person who is the total package of attitude, ability, skill, and, most of all, heart."
Cleary, an English major with a coaching minor, started playing basketball in third grade. She's been hooked on the hoop ever since. "I love it because it's so much fun," she says. "I like being part of a team, I like the intensity, and I like how you're involved no matter where you are on the court."
As for strategies, Cleary says that her main plans on the court are to be aggressive on defense and to attack the hoop. "I'm lucky because I have quick hands and I can anticipate where the steal is going. I don't really think very much -- I just do it," she says. Cleary adds that knowing her teammates and coach are behind her gives her courage to make bold moves during games.
Cleary's father, Stephen, also stands behind her, attending every game. Cleary looks to her father in the audience throughout the game for input on her performance. She admits that she disciplines herself as well. Her teammates would agree. "Everyone knows Steph wants to win -- her desire is so strong," says Alexandra "Alex" Ivansheck '05, a teammate and friend. "She is intense yet a motivator, and her drive rubs off on the rest of us."
Cleary takes her discipline off the court and into the gym as well. During the season she lifts weights two times a week in addition to team practices and games. Off-season, she stays in shape with a daily cardiovascular workout and weight training three times a week.
The women's team had an excellent record during the 2004 season, with 23 wins and 4 losses. Ithaca was ranked number 17 nationally, another best showing for the College. The team claimed the Empire 8 championship with a 95-75 victory over Elmira College in the first round and a 76-65 win over St. John Fisher College in the second.
Cleary, who helped the team to these honors, plans to go to graduate school to get a teaching degree in secondary special education; she found her calling last summer when she worked with a young autistic boy at a nursery school. And she hopes to coach, saying, "I still want basketball to be a part of my life."
It wouldn't surprise her teammates and coaches if this young scholar-athlete steals as many opportunities out of life post-college as she has in her four years on the court for Ithaca.
Photo by Tim McKinney