Yet another oppressive win by Clovis West High School in girls basketball was in the books – 89-34 Friday night over a Central team that merely arrived 18-5 and fourth-ranked in the Central Section – and five interviews afterward found a common theme: hard work.
It was just a matter of context.
For Clovis West coach Craig Campbell and players Danae Marquez and Aysha Kirkland: “We work hard.”
For Central coach Chris Mitchell and a major college coach pursuing several Eagles: “They work hard.”
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The college coach, prohibited by NCAA rules to be identified while scouting prospective recruits, was asked: “Don’t most programs work hard?”
Answer, following a laugh: “No. We watch a lot of bad basketball. Coming here is always refreshing. (Campbell) works hard; the players work hard. That’s what defines them. Hard work has made this program what it is.”
Marquez, arguably the section’s premier point guard as a junior, knows no other way, having been groomed in the Clovis West feeder system since fourth grade: “It’s our foundation. We don’t look at the scoreboard. We could be down 40 or up 40; we’re not coached (to lessen the intensity).
We play for each other and, at the end of the day, if we’re not going hard, we’re not playing for each other. Our coaches put in hours and hours, and we’re blessed to have them. This experience is life-changing; I’ll never forget it.
Clovis West junior point guard Danae Marquez
“We play for each other and, at the end of the day, if we’re not going hard, we’re not playing for each other. Our coaches put in hours and hours, and we’re blessed to have them. This experience is life-changing; I’ll never forget it.”
The numbers under 11-year coach Campbell are staggering.
▪ The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in the section by The Fresno Bee and No. 12 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports, are 23-3 this season and 258-70 (.787) in his career.
▪ They are averaging 73.0 points a game with an average victory margin of 35.8 this season.
▪ They are 7-0 in the Tri-River Athletic Conference and 104-3 (.972) with 10 straight titles in his career.
▪ They’ve won three straight section Division I championships and six total under him.
Clovis West had won 73-22 at Central in the TRAC’s first round before Friday’s game that, again, finished with a fourth-quarter running clock.
How to measure the Eagles’ level of superiority?
Process this from Mitchell: “We scored 22 points the first time; 34 this time. We have to find some positives, and that’s an improvement.”
The Grizzlies turned over the ball on their first three possessions against Clovis West’s signature trapping press, plunged into an 8-0 hole after a couple of minutes, and that was effectively it.
You have to get more shots than turnovers against them. That’s the key.
Central coach Chris Mitchell, applauding Clovis West’s trapping press
“You have to get more shots than turnovers against them. That’s the key,” Mitchell says.
And he was serious.
Edison coach Bill Engel – defeated 48-36 by the Eagles in last year’s D-I final at Selland Arena and the clear choice to oppose them in a championship rematch March 5 – has long said: “To beat team, learn how to beat the trap.”
Compounding the challenge is beating the trap against fresh legs because of Clovis West’s depth.
The Eagles, who will play at Buchanan on Wednesday, have eight players ranging from Fresno Pacific-bound senior Ashley Cross to freshman Madison Campbell (the coach’s daughter) offered college scholarships. Cross, however, took an elbow to her right eye in practice last week and may not return this season, Campbell says. She was The Bee All-Stars Outstanding Defensive Player last season.
Clovis West has lost twice this season to the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, St. Mary’s-Stockton (21-0), and once to Hamilton of Chandler, Ariz. (21-3). The scores were 70-47 and 70-60 to St. Mary’s and 59-57 to Hamilton. Only three other teams have played St. Mary’s to 10 points or closer.
The Rams, coached by Riverdale graduate Tom Gonsalves, are prohibitive favorites to repeat as CIF State Open Division champions. That’s the state’s elite postseason tournament, a 16-team event generally dominated by private schools such as St. Mary’s. Clovis West was one of only four public schools to make the field last season, knocking off state top-10 squad Alemany-Mission Hills 53-50 in the first round before losing 79-40 to private Chaminade-West Hills in the quarterfinals.
The Eagles, with another section title, surely will return to the Open Division showcase.
.742 Craig Campbell’s winning percentage in a combined 22-year career at Reno High and Clovis West (498-173)
And Campbell, for all his expectations at Clovis West, doesn’t fool himself: “Winning a state (Open Division) title is not realistic. Could we get hot and do some things? Yes. But we’re not going to beat four powerhouses in a row. We just want to get in position to get to the state level and enjoy the journey.
“Mainly, we want our kids to have no regrets at the end of the season, knowing they poured their heart and soul into it every day. We (coaches) are demanding; we’re a pain in the butt at times. But our kids get it. They want to please and they really want to achieve.”