By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
Having procrastinated enough during my spring break (a rejuvenation period for me dominated by Netflix, impromptu family outings and a bunch of games on pinball), I decided to hunker down and get some sports writing done. So I hopped in my Landspeeder (a Nissan Altima actually, and yep, I’m a big Star Wars fan) and found myself at one of the 824 local Starbucks. I ordered my usual grande iced white mocha and peered around the room, looking to establish a base camp for the next four hours or so when I saw a familiar face sitting in the corner staring intently at a computer with folders and papers and pens sprawled all around him.
It was no other than Clovis boys’ basketball coach Wil Hooker, dressed in basketball shorts and a blue Cougars basketball hoodie. We’ve had some good talks in the past, especially when he took over the program two years ago, discussing what it was going to take to re-establish a program that had fallen a little on the way side. Hooker, the former Fresno State basketball standout, has always been extremely approachable and friendly, a straight shooter both as a player (he is third all-time in scoring as a Bulldog) and in person so we quickly picked up a conversation about basketball. And what was he working on so diligently at 10:03 in the morning on a Friday?
Well, he was charting out his AAU program, those lower levels of basketball teams from third grade up until eighth grade that’s become so imperative to the success of high school programs. If you’re not on top of your feeder programs, you’ll literally be years behind other programs. Here was coach Hooker, whose teams the last two years have gone 0-20 in league, working to get better, and was still there at 2:12 pm when I left, never once getting up out of his seat, grinding it out in the quietness of a café with a laptop and a bunch of papers sprawled upon a table. Who knows how long he stayed?
It got me to thinking how much time high school coaches put in behind the scenes to give their programs an edge and perhaps even simply trying to keep afloat in this wild west of high school sports. Those late nights when their heads hit the pillow and their minds cannot rest until they figure out how to get better or how to deal with a difficult situation. I am constantly amazed at the quality of coaching I see, and more importantly the quality of people I have the privilege to meet. For the most part coaches are only judged by wins and losses which is can be a great disservice. We attend games and watch them sweat, yell, scream, implore their players to lay it all on the court. We analyze and scrutinize their game plans and in-game decisions. Coaches understand this. Yet, it’s important to remember that these coaches pour their heart and soul into their players and programs behind the scenes, when no one is looking, striving to improve from the game or practice or year before. So, my proverbial hat is off to coach Hooker and all the coaches who are working countless hours when seemingly no one is looking.
TRAC boys volleyball struts their stuff
Buchanan has been on top of the boys volleyball scene the past three seasons, undefeated in TRAC play with three D-I Valley titles.
Waiting in the wings for the past two years has been Clovis High, and this year the Cougars (20-4) are looking to overthrow the Bears from their throne.
And then there’s Clovis North who sits at 21-5 on the season.
All three had some recent success in out-of-section tournaments with Clovis traveling to Honolulu, Hawaii to participate in the KS Cup the same weekend (April 1) as Clovis North went to Granite Bay while Buchanan traveled to Las Vegas.
Trying to reload from a team that graduated nine seniors from last year’s TRAC and Valley title team, Buchanan has taken their lumps this year. But, those early season losses were a trial by fire as the Bears captured the Las Vegas Easter Classic in dominating fashion by finishing 9-0 for the tournament, including 18-1 in sets.
The Bears (15-7) beat Brophy College Prep from Arizona 26-24, 25-22 in the finals after beating Mt. View also from Arizona 25-16, 25-18 in the semi-finals. At the time Brophy was ranked No. 8 in the nation while Buchanan was 108th.
“When you have so many new bodies it’s going to take time to put things together,” said Buchanan head coach John Jay. “We are starting to gel.”
Buchanan was led by tournament MVP Kyle Merchen and all-tournament players Braden Clarke, Spencer Heimerdinger, Rece Constable and Nolan Zaayer.
Merchen tallied 24 assists in the championship game and 27 in the semi-finals and 189 total for the tournament for a 21 assists per game average. Heimerdinger, also a standout basketball player for the Bears, registered 8 kills in the finals and 11 in the semis. Constable was a standout on defense with 35 digs total in the final two games.
“This year’s team are a group of guys who really care for each other success,” added Jay. “They work extremely hard and are fearless.”
As for Clovis and their sparkling 20-4 overall record and 5-0 league mark, it made the long but well worth-while plane ride to Honolulu, where it marched to the championship game before losing to Kamehameha-Hawai’i 20-25, 21-25, 25-17, 21-25. Senior Akash Dhothar set the pace with 19 kills while freshman David Hawkins had 11. Senior Trey Lake had 40 assists.
All season long the Cougars have relied on the strong and incredibly balanced senior hitters Dhothar (211 kills), Zevan Williams (222 kills) and Max Ogas (204). And there’s also setter Lake, the coach’s son who also played quarterback on the football team and shooting guard on the basketball squads and his 720 assists on the season.
Clovis North also had a nice run at the Granite Bay Tournament, advancing to the championship game losing to St. Francis 19-25, 14-25. Sophomore Garret Bilhofer has led the Broncos with 201 kills and junior Miles Olson has 158 on the season.
Buchanan and Clovis will meet up on May 2 at Clovis High.
Craig Campbell named Cal-Hi Basketball Coach of the Year
In a magical season that saw the Clovis West girls’ basketball team win the CIF Open Division State Championship, finish No. 1 in the state and a No. 1 national ranking in three national polls, head coach Craig Campbell was rewarded as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year.
With attention to detail unmatched in the Central Section coaching ranks – from cultivating a Little Hoopsters program that saw over 300 girls K-8 participate this year alone to installing a trapping, intricate defense – Campbell put it all together this season with a 34-2 record capped off with the 44-40 state final win over Archbishop Mitty.
“The award is really representative of the comprehensive efforts of our staff and players,” said Campbell. “We all did this together.”
Campbell is the third girls Central Section basketball coach to win the award, joining Mary Brown from San Joaquin Memorial in 1973 and Dwayne Tubbs from Hanford in 2001.
Clovis West Athletic Director Matt Loggins describes a coach who strives to get the best of his players: “Coach Campbell is special because he is motivated by helping his players be the best versions of themselves. He does not coach to the scoreboard or the public praise He has a strong sense of what he wants for his teams and he consistently holds each member accountable to that standard regardless of circumstance.”
It truly was a perfect storm of a season for Campbell with five seniors who are going on to play Division I basketball next season in Sarah Bates (UCSB), Bre’yanna Sanders (Arizona State), Danae Marquez (San Jose State), Megan Anderson (San Jose State) and Tess Amundsen (Boise State). Maddie Campbell, Craig’s sophomore daughter, holds multiple D-I offers.
The 44-year old coach has amassed a 266-71 record in his 12 years at Clovis West since coming from his hometown Reno where he won a state title in 2001 coaching Reno High in the state’s largest division. His teams at Clovis West have won eight Central Section championships, including five in a row, and 12 TRAC titles (117-3).
“Winning a state championship in the Open Division is remarkable and finishing as a national champion in three polls is surreal,” Campbell said. “What makes it so special is accomplishing something greater than yourself. No individual could ever achieve what we all did together.”
Jonah Wilson wins shot put at Arcadia
Clovis High’s Jonah Wilson had the shot put throw of his life at the Arcadia Invitational, unleashing a massive 63 feet, 4 inch throw to win the prestigious event on April 8. Wilson double dips in the discus as well and threw a remarkable 201 feet, good for fourth place.
And check this out: his discus throw is fifth best in Central Section history. So how can it only be good enough for fourth place at the Arcadia event? Well, because this meet attracts some of the best in track and field on the West Coast. The winning throw was from Turner Washington from Del Oro in Arizona, an eye-popping 217-05 the top mark in the country.
“I felt my performance was great given the situation I was in and also considering it came down to my last throw,” said Wilson who personal best last season in the shot put was 59-8. “I had to use every ounce of power left to win and stay in the ring.”
“After my performance I was astonished. I was nearly in tears because it was such a surreal moment for me. One can only dream of winning a meet as big as Arcadia and it nearly took me two or three days to realize that I was actually an Arcadia champion.”
Wilson is a senior and attending University of Washington next season.
Clovis North’s Brooke Tjerrild placed third in the girls pole vault at 13-2.