His Clovis West High girls basketball team having crushed Clovis North 70-37 while marching toward a ninth straight Tri-River Athletic Conference title, coach Craig Campbell walked out of the Golden Eagles' gym and into the Friday night chill, meeting his 13-year-old twins, Madison and Mason.
Madison, at 5-feet-7 and wearing a size 11 shoe, is the future of the program.
Better said: She's the extension of what is, what has been.
Her seventh-grade team at Kastner Intermediate — the Clovis West feeder — dominated every same-grade opponent and went 28-1, losing by a point to an eighth-grade opponent.
A league championship also was won by Kastner's eighth-grade team, and will surely be won by Clovis West's freshmen and junior varsity, in addition to the 19-3 varsity that has won by an average of 34.3 points in going 6-0 in the TRAC.
Six of the top 10 players on the state's 15th-ranked varsity are freshmen and sophomores. And, oh by the way, there are 259 players involved in the Clovis West district Little Hoopsters program, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
"Not just because of fliers," says Campbell, 199-61 in nine years with the Eagles, according to section historian Bob Barnett. "We promote the program in every grade of every elementary school."
This is what's being chased, among others, by coach Heather Long at Clovis North, 0-9 all-time against Clovis West while losing by an average of 29.4 points.
And how to narrow the cavernous gap? "Hard work and putting the time in," she says. "They've built a phenomenal program here. They've definitely set the bar."
It's a bar that has only been met — sometimes exceeded — in recent years by Hanford, which won five consecutive Central Section titles in three divisions from 2007-11, the last two in D-I.
In what has developed into one of the section's most attractive duels — in any sport, in any gender — the Eagles crushed Hanford 57-39 in a D-I semifinal last year en route to their 13th section crown.
But the Bullpups of the West Yosemite League answered with a 59-57 win at Clovis West for the Central Valley Showdown title on Dec. 7, virtually guaranteeing them the top seed for the D-I playoffs, which will begin in three weeks.
A Hanford-Clovis West final at Selland Arena on March 8 appears imminent, and how not to look ahead?
"It's hard," says Cal State Fullerton-bound Portia Neale, who teams with Emily Anderson (Cal Poly) as four-year varsity veterans and the team's foundation. "But we have to stay focused on the next game, the next step."
No section team can match the depth of the Eagles, who had 11 of their 18 players score against the Broncos (12-10, 3-3), led by Anderson (12), Neale (11) and sophomore Aysha Kirkland (11).
Neale and Campbell agreed that the Eagles are finally approaching the top of their game, having found an element of chemistry challenged by multiple factors: the presence of four freshmen; the midseason eligibility of transfers Landynn Munster (starting point guard) and Anntranetta Stickman (reserve forward); and the crushing, season-ending loss of senior forward Emma Guerrero, a captain, three-year varsity player and key contributor to last year's 23-6 team. She ripped an ACL a month ago.
"Emma was our verbal glue on the floor, a tough, tough kid mentally, and we miss that," says Campbell. "We went through a rough patch after she got hurt; we were out of sync. But we're starting to hit our stride, getting a feel for each other. We just have to continue to refine."
All while Hanford looms large to the south.
"I've been sucked in early in my career looking at that Hanford game," he said, "and you don't enjoy the journey along the way. We'll worry about Hanford when they're next on our schedule."
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