After debuting at No. 3 in the preseason Cal-Hi Sports state rankings and going 5-0 to start the season at the Nike Central Valley Showdown, the Clovis West girls basketball team will head to the Iolani tourney this weekend in Hawaii where several other top teams from California will be as well. Go inside for the full rundown on the Golden Eagles and for links to the NorCal and SoCal basketball preview issues (both boys and girls teams included) done by our CHSN partners at SportStars Magazine.
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A perfect game for the Clovis West of Fresno girls basketball team would be 15 points each for all five starters plus another 15 off the bench for a total of 85 while holding a quality opponent below 50.
And if there’s a season and a team that Golden Eagles’ head coach Craig Campbell can get that type of performance from, then it’s the one he’s been assembling for the 2016-17 season.
Clovis West returns four starters from last year’s team that finished 30-4 and at No. 8 in the final state rankings. There’s also the addition of a key transfer and the continued improvement of an all-state freshman that has the buzz of excitement that’s never been higher since Campbell arrived 12 years ago from Reno.
“It’s definitely another level (of media attention) and definitely a special group that deserves it,” said Campbell, whose team received a No. 10 preseason national ranking from USA Today just two hours before he talked on the phone to Cal-Hi Sports and SportStars. “This group really does say when I tell them we’re going to do something for three days, ‘Why not four?’ Their talent and coachability is what has taken them to the next level.”
The Golden Eagles won their own Nike Central Valley Showdown last weekend to start the season and none of the games were close. They tore through Carondelet of Concord 79-44 in the final and before that won 66-38 against Valley Christian of San Jose.
Megan Anderson, a 6-foot-1 senior wing who has signed with San Jose State, is the team’s top returning scorer at 13 points per game. Also headed to SJSU is 5-foot-6 senior point guard Danae Marquez, who was the team’s floor leader (8.6 ppg, 3.3 assists) and was the Fresno Bee’s Player of the Year.
The other two returning starters are 5-foot-9 senior guard Sarah Bates, who is bound for UC Santa Barbara with a 12.9 ppg scoring average, and 6-foot, athletic wing Bre’yanna Sanders, who is headed to Arizona State with an 11.0 ppg mark.
Campbell’s daughter, Maddie, is earning multiple D1 college offers as well. She came off the bench as a freshman last year, but did enough against the team’s toughest opponents to earn a spot on the Cal-Hi Sports All-State Freshman team.
The only player to graduate was athletic forward Aysha Kirkland, who is now at Alcorn State. Joining the fold partly to replace her will be 6-foot forward Tess Amundsen, who transferred in from Clovis North of Fresno. Amundsen has signed with Boise State and was one of the top scorers in the CIF Central Section as a junior.
“It’s cool, awesome and humbling to be in national rankings, but like I tweeted we also have to ignore the hype,” Marquez said. “We don’t want to lose sight of what we want to do by the end of the season.”
Added Bates when asked what the girls might actually do to stay focused and not become over-confident: “It’s just good for us to stay together, do things together. At the end of the day, it’s only the rankings at the end that matter.”
After starting 5-0 at its own tourney, Clovis West next will travel to Hawaii for the Iolani tourney and then just before Christmas head to Arizona for the Nike Tournament of Champions.
Judging by some of the preseason rankings, it’s likely that Clovis West will be placed in the top bracket at the Nike TOC, which is the one that St. Mary’s of Stockton won last year en route to being No. 1 in the nation until it suffered an upset loss in the CIF NorCal Open Division semifinals to Pinewood of Los Altos Hills.
And speaking of the Open Division, that’s been a sore spot for Campbell since the advent of the division for the 2012-13 season. He’s glad this year’s team will probably have the chance to go far in that division, but has difficulty understanding some of the guidelines.
“If the intent is to have the 16 best teams in the state, then I’m all for it,” he said. “But when they put a cap on the Southern Section for just four teams, then everyone knows there are a lot of the 16 best teams that aren’t in it.
“For some years, we’ve felt like the sacrificial lambs. But last year we deserved to be there. What’s hard is for everybody in it to see other teams hanging state championship banners in their gym who aren’t in it.”
Still, Campbell and his girls know that to make a dent in the perception that a team from Fresno can be truly among the top five in the state that wins will be required over some of those other top teams.
“We know we haven’t done anything amazing yet,” Bates said. “But we have a great group, great coaches and will just trust the process.”
In last year’s SoCal Open Division, Clovis West defeated Sierra Canyon of Chatsworth in the quarterfinals before losing to Long Beach Poly in the semifinals. The Jackrabbits then lost to eventual CIF Open Division champion Chaminade of West Hills. In the season before, Chaminade ended Clovis West’s season with a 79-40 win.
There is a possibility for this year’s Open Division that a team from the CIF Central Section could be placed in the northern bracket instead of the southern. If the Golden Eagles do as well as many analysts think they’ll do, however, then they probably would stay in the south.
“It would have been nice to know about this before we set up our schedule,” Campbell said. “We set it up thinking we’d be in the south. Now we won’t know for sure until that Sunday when the brackets come out.”
Perhaps the best attribute for the Golden Eagles is their willingness to share the ball. Since Campbell arrived from Reno High (where he won one Nevada state title and was runner-up three times), balanced scoring has been a trademark with the leading scorer often only getting 13 to 15 per game.
“Our success as a team overshadows a team that may have someone who scores 30 or 35 points per game,” Marquez said. “We know we’re all capable of doing something like that. But if we become selfish, we wouldn’t have the success we’ve had.”
Three of the players – Anderson, Marquez and Sanders – also have been playing together in Campbell’s AAU program since they were in the fourth grade. Bates joined them as a freshman.
“It’s really a culture we’ve created for sharing, making the extra pass and defense,” Campbell said. “In practice, our kids earn more points for a deflection and assist than a basket. And if everybody is a threat, then when a lot of teams try to take out our first or second options, that just makes us harder to defend.”