The girls basketball team at Clovis High School rocketed into the new year with many reasons to celebrate.
No. 1 cause for fireworks: The Cougars shot to an impressive 15-2 start in the new season.
Team chemistry is strong and defensive play has shown steady improvement.
Furthermore, 3-pointers fell like raindrops at a Northern California tournament won by Clovis High. Also, a team captain has received a scholarship offer to play college basketball.
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Head coach Greg Clark said the victories are important, but how they’re achieved is equally significant.
“We have to learn things from each game and continue to get better,” Clark said. “One of our mottos is ‘1 percent better each day.’ I think we’re learning how to do that.”
Clark is in his second year as head coach. Last season, he led the Cougars to 20-11 overall and 7-3 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
Clark uses a number of slogans to motivate the team. One saying puts an emphasis on five E’s: Effort. Enthusiasm. Energy. Everyday. Every play.
“I’m trying to get them to understand that they have to put forth 100 percent effort every time they step on the court in practice and in games,” Clark said. “That’s what we expect.”
Toughness is another concept he’s trying to teach. As a guide, Clark uses the book, “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off The Court” by Jay Bilas. Bilas is an ESPN basketball analyst and former player at Duke University.
Player accountability is one of Bilas’ principles. Clark builds a culture of accountability by charting each possession during a game so players can see afterward whether they covered their assignments.
Team building also is important to Clark. He said players and coaches gather for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners because “we’re a big family.”
Senior Morgan Powell believes Clovis High’s strong start is partly due to team chemistry. “We all enjoy being around each other, and not just in basketball,” she said.
Strong practices also are leading to victories, Powell said.
Another player, junior Taylor Correa, said the Cougars are playing better defense this year. “It’s effort,” she said. “We want it more this year than we did last year. And we know what we’re capable of, which helps us.”
Correa tied a Clovis High record by making eight 3-pointers during a game in December at the Rumble on the River Tournament in West Sacramento. In three games at the tournament, she made 17 3-pointers and was named Most Valuable Player.
Correa — who worked on shooting almost every day last summer — said her goal this season is simple: Contribute to the team’s success. “I can’t carry the team, but I want to do my part,” she said.
Senior Rachel Berry said that attitude helps explain Clovis High’s strong start.
“Everybody is playing their part, and everybody has a role to play,” she said. “I want to be the best captain I can be and keep a positive attitude day in and day out.”
Berry leads by example, while Powell and another senior, Taylor Cherry, are vocal leaders, Clark said. With this season’s young team, senior leadership is important, he added.
Berry stands out for another reason — she has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at Fresno Pacific University. It’s been more than 20 years since a female basketball player at Clovis High received a scholarship offer, Clark said.
He added it will be exciting for Berry’s coaches and teammates at Clovis High to attend FPU games and see her at the next level.
Berry is an all-round player. Early in the season, she led the Cougars in steals and assists, and she was second in scoring and rebounding. She’s also a 4.0 student who competes in cross country and track in addition to basketball.
Her younger sister, Michelle, a sophomore, is on the basketball team, too. Another sister duo — senior Jolie Heu and sophomore Jasmine Heu — plays for the Cougars, as well.
Clovis High begins TRAC competition on Jan. 13 by hosting Clovis East High School. Every TRAC team is talented and well coached, Clark said.
Most impressive is Clovis West High School, which USA Today Super 25 Computer Rankings listed as No. 1 nationally in late December.
“Every game in the TRAC is a tough game,” Clark said.
He wants his players to bring mental toughness to the games, and Correa, for one, has embraced that principle.
“We have nothing to lose going into each game,” she said. “So we have to have the mindset that we’re capable of beating everyone, including Clovis West.”
Michelle Berry, sophomore
Rachel Berry, senior
Taylor Cherry, senior
Taylor Correa, junior
Kelsey Delgado, freshman
Avery Evans, freshman
Chloe Franz, junior
Jasmine Heu, sophomore
Jolie Heu, senior
Alexis Mapanao, senior
Liane Matsunaga, junior
Tatiana Ong, junior
Morgan Powell, senior
Alexa Sutton, sophomore
Alexis Vincent-Walker, junior