By Bill Doyle, Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER — Clark University women's basketball coach Pat Glispin didn't have to spend much of her recruiting budget to lure Aretha Sullivan and Sam O'Gara to campus.
Both guards went to high school about half a mile from Clark's Kneller Athletic Center. Sullivan used to walk through Clark's campus to get from her home to the University Park Campus School. O'Gara lives a little more than a mile from campus in Webster Square and graduated from nearby Claremont Academy.
Students from UPC and Claremont form the Main South high school sports teams, and in 2013, Sullivan and O'Gara led the girls' basketball team to its first Central Mass. Division 3 championship.
Last season, Sullivan averaged 4.8 points in 14.8 minutes a freshman reserve guard at Clark while O'Gara prepped at Vermont Academy. Sullivan constantly texted O'Gara to urge her to join her at Clark. So did Sullivan or Glispin do a better of recruiting O'Gara?
"It was pretty close, but I'd have to say my coach," O'Gara said.
Glispin hasn't announced her starting lineup yet, but she said that Sullivan, 20, and O'Gara, 19, will both play prominent roles this season. All-conference guards Emily Reilly and Ashleigh Condon, both four-year starters, graduated, so Clark needs help in the backcourt, and Sullivan and O'Gara hope to provide it.
"I've never seen two players play together so seamlessly," Glispin said. "They're just so in tune with each other."
O'Gara handles the ball more and Sullivan slashes to the basket. They not only complement each other games, they're best friends.
"We're always together," O'Gara said.
At 5-foot-4, Sullivan is the shortest player on Clark's team. O'Gara is only an inch taller. O'Gara is outgoing, and Sullivan is quiet.
Glispin said in her 31 years as coach, she has never had any other players who grew up so close to campus.
"Clark is very invested in connecting with the community anyway," Glispin said, "and this is a terrific extension of that. I'm really grateful they're both here."
Clark founded UPC in cooperation with the Worcester Public Schools, and UPC students can take classes taught by Clark professors. UPC doesn't have a gym, so Sullivan took physical education classes at Clark. Main South and Clark even share the same mascot, the Cougars.
Sullivan has wanted to go to Clark since the seventh grade when her history teacher was Jessica Lamothe, who played at Clark for Glispin. O'Gara was interested in Clark for nearly as long. As a volunteer at St. Peter's Parish across the street from the University, O'Gara was granted free admission to Clark women's basketball games.
So Glispin didn't have to twist either Sullivan's or O'Gara's arm to get them to enroll at Clark.
"I'm really, really lucky," Glispin said. "But I've been watching these two for a long time."
Students who live as close to campus as Sullivan receive free tuition at Clark. O'Gara lives a bit too far away to take advantage of that arrangement.
Sullivan and O'Gara both now live on campus, but Sullivan's family lives on Florence Street, which is so close to campus Clark students rent apartments there.
"When you want a home-cooked meal, you just go right down the street," Sullivan said.
Sullivan was the T&G Hometeam Magazine Player of the Year in girls' basketball in 2013 and finished her high school career with more than 1,700 points.
O'Gara played two years for St. Peter-Marian before playing her last two alongside Sullivan for Main South. As a senior, Sullivan averaged 19 points and O'Gara averaged 18.3. Being apart last season took an adjustment.
"I wanted Sam to come to Clark with me to have someone there who I already knew," Sullivan said. "I always hoped she would come the following year. It was tough at first."
They're back together now.
"It brings back a lot of memories," O'Gara said. "It brings me back to the Main South days all over again."