It’s time to do some celebrating.
The following awards and recognitions you’re about to read are certainly cause for praise and honor – they are a reward for all the hours upon hours of dedication and hard work Clovis Unified student-athletes and coaches put into their craft.
Those 5 a.m. weight lifting sessions, the football drills in 103-degree blistering heat, the 100 three-point shots alone in a gym, those extra 20 cuts in the batting cage? Yep, those things are paramount to get to the next level, and in the end they pay off. Whether the results are a league title or Central Section championship or even a state title, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.
Certainly touchdowns and home runs and scoring that important goal matters. However, at the end of the day when your head hits the pillow, what matters most?
You’re going to read about Clovis wrestler Seth Nevills, perhaps the greatest high school wrestler in California history, and all his great accomplishments. But, what will stick out most to me is what happened after his first and only loss in his career. Instead of getting angry or sulking or shying away from everyone, he was gracious in defeat, knowing he gave every ounce he had. Nevills has learned the art of turning defeat into victory.
Buchanan soccer goalie Alexa Marchini had a phenomenal senior year; a league and Central Section title, Buchanan Girls Athlete of the Year and a scholarship to a Division I college (Northern Arizona). Even with all those accomplishments, her coach, Tim Carroll, spoke just as highly about her character than her play on the field. Now that’s high praise.
I can tell a hundred more stories of sportsmanship this season that warms the heart. However, I must digress, because we have some awards to give out. So without further ado – and while there are many, many deserving athletes and teams to choose from – here is the best I saw, both on and off the field.
Team of the Year
The credentials: The Cougars finished 30-2 overall, 10-0 in TRAC play and won the 2018 CIF Central Section D-I title with a 6-3 win over Buchanan. They finished ranked No. 4 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 13 nationally by MaxPreps and USA Today.
The story: With a stellar senior class, the girls in blue and gold were on a mission from Day 1. And they certainly did not disappoint, capping off an excellent season with their third D-I Central Section title in four years. With a team mantra of “18 against 1”, the Cougars had no weaknesses – a superb combination of fundamental defense, stellar pitching and timely hitting orchestrated by head coach Mike Noel, pitching coach Ralph “Pops” Salazar, and assistants Mike Salazar and Mackenzie Emmett. Led by senior pitcher Danielle Lung and her perfect 25-0 record, the best in Central Section history, the Cougars outscored league opponents 68-6 and 210-51 overall, breaking numerous school records in a season they posted the highest winning percentage in school history. Their only two losses were at the Whittier Christian Tournament, both games Lung did not pitch. They shattered the team home run record of 23 set in 2016, blasting 31, led by senior Emily Puente’s nine, followed by sophomore sister Allie and senior Jordyn Martinez’s tying with seven. Their 19 errors on the season are the lowest in school history. Senior Tori Mueller was a mainstay at shortstop and the top of the lineup, and was joined by classmates Ashley Kincaid, Elaine Caballero, Jenna Scarborough, and junior Grace Henson. They certainly are in the conversation as one of the great Clovis softball teams of all time.
High praise: “When we faced them we knew that we could not make mistakes because a team that’s as talented as they are will always capitalize on miscues. They were senior heavy and played with great confidence as a group. We’ve had great battles with them over the years and this is certainly one of the most talented teams we have competed against.” –Buchanan coach Dean Gregory.
Male Athlete of the Year
SETH NEVILLS, CLOVIS WRESTLING
The Credentials: 169-1 career record, 39-1 his senior year, all wins during his junior and senior seasons were by pin. Holds four CIF state heavyweight wrestling titles, three Doc B titles, four TRAC and Masters titles. Finished ranked No. 3 in the nation for heavyweights. Headed to Penn State, the three-time defending NCAA champion.
The Story: The name Nevills was already a household name in the wrestling world even before youngest brother Seth took the mat his freshman year at Clovis High. Preceded by brothers Nick, Zach and A.J., who combined for five CIF state wrestling titles of their own, Seth proved right away that he was a force to be reckoned with, going undefeated and winning the CIF State heavyweight title his freshman year, thus setting the stage for a legendary career. Four years later, the Penn State signee cemented himself as one of the greatest California high school wrestlers of all time when he won his fourth straight state title in dominating fashion, only the third wrestler in history to accomplish the feat. His only loss was his senior year to world Greco-Roman world champion Cohlton Schultz of Colorado 3-2 in the finals of the Doc Buchanan Invitational in January. Nevills was a rock star on the high school wrestling circuit – wrestlers he just defeated would routinely ask to take selfies with him after he beat them to a pulp. Now that’s respect.
High Praise: “We wrestle the toughest competition week in and week out and [Seth was] really unchallenged in high school by California competition. I can’t even remember a match that was within a few points – 169-1 and I bet not more than 20 matches that went the distance. For comparison, he’s been like a LeBron James of heavyweights in California. Just a man amongst boys.” –Clovis coach Adam Tirapelle
Honorable mention: Trevor Ervin, Buchanan football, wrestling; Spencer Heimerdinger, Buchanan basketball, volleyball; Rodney Wright III, Clovis West football, baseball; Kyle Merchen, Buchanan volleyball; Michael Jai, Clovis North swimming; Dusty Schramm, Clovis West football, baseball; Anthony Montalvo, Buchanan wrestling.
Female Athlete of the Year
ALEXA MARCHINI, BUCHANAN SOCCER
The credentials: Marchini registered 150 saves and only 13 goals against with 15 shutouts in a season the Bears went 18-5-4 overall and were TRAC champions at 6-1-3. Secured the 2018 D-I Central Section championship game win over Liberty-Bakersfield with a save on the fourth penalty kick. She was named the TRAC Player of the Year.
The story: Every championship-caliber team has a backbone player, and Marchini fit the mold perfectly. The bigger the stage, the tougher she got in goal for a Buchanan team that got better as the season progressed. Here’s how valuable Marchini was: after a 1-0 defeat to Central on Jan. 12 that dropped the Bears to 0-1-3 in league, Marchini allowed only two goals during a nine-game winning streak, culminating with a magnificent performance in the Central Section Division I title game at No. 1 Liberty-Bakersfield. That’s when the Northern Arizona-bound, tough-as-nails goalkeeper stood in the box with her team up 4-3 in penalty kicks after a 1-1 regulation tie and read the final penalty kick to perfection, deflecting the ball on the right and securing it, setting off a wild celebration. Coaches have raved about her character, leadership skills and her community activism. In the storied history of Buchanan girls soccer – 11 total titles and 10 in past 13 seasons – the 2017 Bears would never had been in position to win without the stellar play of Marchini.
High praise: “What impressed me most about Alexa this season is how humble, hardworking, selfless, focused and responsible she is off the field and how she can take all those characteristics and seamlessly apply them on the field in training and on game day. She’s a young lady who lives every part of her life with a purpose of being a servant leader in her community and her character does not change due to the situation or circumstance.” –Buchanan head coach Tim Carroll
Honorable mention: Danielle Lung, Clovis softball; Janie Ellis, Clovis West tennis; Madison Nii, Clovis West golf; Emily Puente, Clovis softball.
Boys Team of the Year
The credentials: Won the 2018 CIF State Wrestling championship for the third consecutive year with two state individual titles, eight total medals, tallying 219 team points. The Bears also won the TRAC and Central Section Masters and finished No. 6 in the nation, according to Intermat.
The story: When Troy Tirapelle took over the Buchanan wrestling program in 2011, there was one goal – to return to the glory years of the late ’90s through mid-2000s when they were able to capture six Central Section titles and one CIF State Championship. Well, mission more than accomplished. There’s no question the TRAC has the best wrestling in the state (and perhaps the nation) and the Bears not only won league and the Central Section Masters but their third consecutive CIF State Wrestling title. Armed with a team of 14 qualifiers, they marched into Rabobank Arena from March 3-4 and took care of business as the heavy favorites. Senior Anthony Montalvo (182) and freshman Maximo Renteria (113) won individual titles as the team had the state wrapped up early due to their immense depth. And just how good is wrestling in the TRAC? Clovis High placed fifth and Clovis North sixth at the state meet this year.
High praise: “What has always made this group of kids champions is how they draw closer together when adversity rears its head. When people start to doubt them, challenge them, they lean on one another and rise to the occasion. That’s what makes them champions, being a family.” –Buchanan director of wrestling Troy Tirapelle
Honorable mention: Buchanan water polo, Clovis North track and field, Buchanan volleyball, Clovis North tennis.
Girls Team of the Year
CLOVIS WEST BASKETBALL
The credentials: 32-4 overall record, 10-0 in TRAC, 2018 Division I Central Section champion, finalist in SoCal Open Division playoffs. Finished No. 5 in state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 30 in nation by MaxPreps after being ranked as high as No. 22.
The story: After winning the 2017 CIF Open Division state title and earning a No. 1 national ranking, Clovis West wasn’t supposed to be this good. But the Golden Eagles once again proved that tradition doesn’t graduate with another stellar season, capturing their sixth straight Division 1 Central Section title and almost returning to the CIF Open Division championship game. After graduating five players that went Division I, junior Madison Campbell stepped up in a major way averaging 20.6 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 4.0 steals per game, earning Cal-Hi Sports Elite team status and TRAC Player of the Year honors. Clovis West extended its league winning streak to 60 in a tough league this year, beating a talented Clovis North team three times, including in the Central Section title game 63-49. After earning a No. 2 seed in the CIF SoCal Open Division (the highest division in California), the Eagles beat Mater Dei and Harvard-Westlake at home before losing 61-50 to Windward in Long Beach, a team that would win the state title a week later by 11 points. But Campbell certainly wasn’t alone; joined by classmates Aari Sanders and Champney Pulliam and freshman Nikki Tom, they even exceeded the expectations of head coach Craig Campbell, the director who has orchestrated the Clovis West girls basketball for 13 years with a 331-77 record.
High praise: “I told people that I thought we would have between 16-21 wins entering the playoffs and if we could go 8-2 in TRAC we would have a chance at at least a share of the title. For these kids to go 32-4 and 10-0 is truly remarkable. I had no thought in my mind we’d be able to do this.” –Clovis West coach Craig Campbell.
Honorable mention: Buchanan cross country, Buchanan soccer, Clovis water polo, Clovis West swimming, Clovis North girls basketball.
Coach of the Year
MIKE NOEL, CLOVIS SOFTBALL
The credentials: Won his eighth career D-I Central Section softball title, all at Clovis, in a season the Cougars went 30-2 and 10-0 in league. Finished the season ranked No. 4 by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 13 in nation by MaxPreps.
The story: Coming into the season the Cougars were certainly the team to beat with a solid group of seniors with a wealth of playoff experience and a Valley title the year prior. However, we all know that the games are played on the field, not on paper, and Coach Noel was masterful all season, perfectly balancing the line of toughness and letting the players’ personalities shine. With star four-year pitcher Danielle Lung, a finalist for the 2018 Cal-Hi Sports Ms. Softball honor, Noel’s teams won three Central Section titles and were a remarkable 113-19 record the last four years. Whether its positioning the defense after extensive scouting, encouraging hitters from his third base coaching box or off-season weight training, attention to detail is extremely important to Noel and it certainly shows. A 1986 graduate of Clovis West where was he a two-sport star in baseball and football, Noel has amassed over 600 wins in his career to go along with his eight Central Section titles.
High praise: “Coach Noel does an outstanding job in developing teams. Talent is definitely helpful, but there are so many intangibles needed in bringing together a team and Coach Noel has fine tuned and mastered the arts of team chemistry, competitive spirit and school pride. I have tremendous respect for his ability to create successful teams that represent the community and the sport so well.” –Bullard coach Jaime Maxey.
Honorable mention: Tim Carroll, Buchanan girls soccer; Craig Campbell, Clovis West girls basketball; John Jay, Buchanan boys volleyball; Rich Brazil, Clovis North track and field.