Bre’yanna Sanders, a star among stars on the Clovis West High School girls basketball team, traded her game face for a big smile.
The Golden Eagles had defeated Clovis High School 54-22 on March 4 to win their fifth consecutive Central Section Division I championship before thousands of fans at Selland Arena.
Next stop: A return to the Clovis West gym on March 10 to host Troy High School of Fullerton in a regional playoff game.
But first there was that Div. I championship to celebrate.
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“Everyone said we couldn’t do it,” an animated Sanders said of the five-peat. “They didn’t want us to do it. But that’s why we did it. I’m really excited right now.”
Such excitement seemed contagious when Clovis West and Clovis battled at Selland. The crowd was loud, the atmosphere was electric, and the stage was big for high school basketball.
For two days in March, Selland hosts Central Section championships for boys and girls teams in Divisions I to V. One game follows another, and momentum builds toward the Div. I finale.
In the Clovis West rooting section, senior Daniel Chronister was the first to take a seat after arriving early for the game. He held a large poster of Sarah Bates, one of five Clovis West seniors who have signed to play at Div. I colleges next season.
“I’m here to support my school,” Chronister said. “The girls team is really talented, and they’ve won almost all their games the last five years. They work really hard.”
Looking around at the buzzing arena, Chronister said: “You can definitely feel the energy.”
Kennedy Hernandez, also a senior at Clovis West, took the seat next to Chronister and called the feeling in the arena “crazy.”
Both teams were soon welcomed to the court with flashing lights and smoke plus video on the overhead scoreboard.
Blair Lambert, a Clovis West learning director, watched the introductions and said Selland was a good venue to showcase the hard-working Golden Eagles. Clovis West entered the game with a 29-2 record and ranked No. 2 in the state and No. 5 in the nation, according to some polls.
Lambert called it a “source of pride” for Clovis Unified School District that Clovis West’s opponent for the championship was Clovis.
“It seems right when we look up and our opponent is wearing the blue and gold,” he said, referring to Clovis’ colors.
As the game got underway, Cougar fans were equally excited at the other end of the court. Nick Amparano, a Clovis High junior, said he came to the game for a simple reason: “I love my school.”
He called the atmosphere in the arena “pretty livid” and said the score wasn’t the most important thing: “We’re losing, but the girls are playing their hearts out, and they’ve got nothing to lose against one of the best teams in the state.”
Clovis West head coach Craig Campbell agreed that the atmosphere at Selland was perfect for championship basketball games.
“It’s an honor for the kids to play on that stage,” Campbell said. “We’ve been so blessed to have earned that opportunity for five straight years. Each season is a different journey, and no championship is guaranteed. We never take them for granted.”
After wrapping up its Central Section championship, Clovis West was awarded the No. 1 seed in the CIF Open Division’s SoCal Regional. The Golden Eagles’ first-round opponent Troy High was seeded No. 8.
Campbell said he wasn’t surprised to receive the top seed: “We felt we should receive it because we went out and played the hardest schedule in the country.”
By mid-January, Clovis West had beat five Top 15 teams in the nation, and the regular season also included victories over some of the best teams in California.
Campbell said he was happy to get a home game against Troy but added: “There is no such thing as a ‘great draw’ when playing in the Open Division. All 16 teams are outstanding and would be state champions in most states.”
The regional playoffs will lead to the CIF State Championships March 24-25 in Sacramento.
Clovis West is led by Sanders, who has signed to play at Arizona State University, and four teammates who also have scholarships to attend Div. I colleges: Bates, University of California, Santa Barbara; Tess Amundsen, Boise State University; and Danae Marquez and Megan Anderson, San Jose State University.
Meanwhile, Clovis traveled to Ventura High School on March 8 and lost 44-29 in the opening round of the SoCal Regional. The loss ended the season for the Cougars, who finished 25-8 overall.