A dream season — that’s where the Clovis West High School girls basketball team appears to be headed in 2017.
Victories over some of the best teams in the nation have vaulted the Golden Eagles to national prominence.
But, said heach coach Craig Campbell, “This isn’t something that happened overnight.”
Early training. Hard-earned experience against elite teams. A combination of “amazing” seniors and talented younger players — all “hungry” for high-level competition. These are factors in Clovis West’s remarkable run, Campbell said.
The Golden Eagles were 15-2 as of mid-January, including victories over five Top 15 teams in the nation.
Long a power in Valley basketball, the Golden Eagles are on a journey that arguably few — if any — high school players and coaches in this region have experienced.
“I can’t even describe how cool it is,” said Bre’yanna Sanders, one of five Clovis West seniors bound for Division 1 college teams. She will attend Arizona State University.
Campbell — in his 12th season at Clovis West and his 23rd overall — said: “I’ve had some great kids and fun teams, but this has been a special year. They are great kids and great ambassadors for our program.”
Campbell said he has players who could score 25 points a game if they were on other teams. “They’ve sacrificed all that to be part of this,” Campbell said. “And they genuinely are happy for each other’s success, which in today’s society is not very common.”
Clovis West showcased its power at two prestigious tournaments in December: the Nike Iolani Classic in Honolulu and the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix.
In Phoenix, Clovis West captured the title in the top bracket by beating four nationally-ranked teams. Madison Campbell — the coach’s sophomore daughter — was named Most Valuable Player of the bracket.
Division 1 college coaches watched the Golden Eagles play in Phoenix and praised their mental toughness and teamwork, Campbell said.
“Our kids played team ball at the highest level and were successful,” he added. “That was extra special.”
Clovis West traditionally schedules tough opponents early in the season, which is doubly true for 2016-17.
“Our kids are comfortable with what the national landscape looks like because they’ve seen it,” Campbell said.
The result? This season, Clovis West is beating teams that it lost to by 30 or 40 points when the seniors were freshmen.
Clovis West rose in national rankings as it showed consistency.
“We didn’t have one upset. We didn’t knock off two top teams,” Campbell said. “To knock off five teams in the Top 15 — it just solidified that this isn’t a fluke.”
In early January, Clovis West was No. 1 nationally in the USA Today Sports computer rankings and No. 1 and No. 2 in two MaxPreps rankings.
Campbell said the rankings are “validation” that Clovis West can play with the best teams in the country. But, he added, “We’re not dumb. We know there are 35 to 40 teams who are just as good as us. On a given night, that can change quickly for us.”
Clovis West experienced that reality on Jan. 16 in losing to highly-ranked Centennial High School of Las Vegas. The Golden Eagles had beaten Centennial earlier in the season.
After the rematch, Campbell said: “We didn’t perform at the level we’re capable of against one of the top teams in the country. We have to be mentally tough every night out.”
Prior to the Jan. 16 loss, Cal-Hi Sports had Clovis West No. 1 in the state. Campbell expects Clovis West to remain No. 1 in the state rankings.
A No. 1 spot would guarantee home games in the early part of the playoffs leading to the Southern California Regional and state championships. There is no national championship tournament for high school basketball.
People ask Campbell how his players are handling the national attention. “Our intrinsic pressure is far higher than what the rankings or the media put on us,” he said.
Senior Megan Anderson said she and her teammates don’t feel too much pressure. “We still have a lot of work to do. We’re trying not to get ahead of ourselves,” Anderson said.
Anderson has signed to play next season at San Jose State University. Three other teammates also have signed Division 1 scholarships: Danae Marquez (San Jose State), Sarah Bates (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Tess Amundsen (Boise State University).
Twelve of the 14 players for the Golden Eagles this season learned to play basketball in development programs that Campbell runs in the schools that feed into Clovis West. “Among our seniors, some have played with us since fourth grade,” Campbell said.
Campbell, who teaches art at Clovis West, has won seven Central Section Div. I championships at Clovis West. Before that, he won eight section championships and a state championship at Reno High School in Reno.
Campbell said he was a tough-minded basketball player in high school and college, and he describes his coaching style as intense and demanding.
“This team has taken on that mentality,” he said. “They’ve been so coachable and such sponges. I keep challenging these kids, and they want more and more and more.”
ROSTER FOR THE 2016-2017 SEASON
Megan Anderson, senior (captain)
Sarah Bates, senior (captain)
Danae Marquez, senior (captain)
Bre’yanna Sanders, senior (captain)
Elizabeth Parker, senior
Tess Amundsen, senior
Briara Robles, junior
Makayla Warren, junior
Ava Emerzian, junior
Adriana Maldonado, junior
Aari’yanna Sanders, sophomore
Champney Pulliam, sophomore
Madison Campbell, sophomore
Miciah Lee, sophomore
Assistant coaches: Mark Howard and Duane Steward
THE REMAINING SCHEDULE FOR THE 2016-2017 SEASON
7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27 vs. Clovis High School at CWHS
5:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 28 vs. Heritage High School at CWHS
7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 31 at Clovis North High School
7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 3 at Central High School
7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7 vs. Buchanan High School at CWHS
7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 10 vs. Clovis East High School at CWHS
7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 14 at Clovis High School