By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
Bre’yanna Sanders and Danae Marquez did a little two-step dance when the final horn sounded. Megan Anderson and Sarah Bates were all smiles, bustling with joy wearing newly christened Valley Champion hats, standing and leaning on the winner’s stage, confetti floating like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
A time for celebration as well they should – this class of basketball superstars are now legends of the Central Section.
The Clovis West (30-2) girls basketball team cemented their place in history and continued its storybook season with a dominating 54-22 win over Clovis at Selland Arena to capture the school’s fifth straight Central Section Division I championship, a streak that includes a perfect 4-for-4 in title games for a special group of four.
“Honestly, incredible,” Marquez said about winning her fourth straight Valley title along with Sanders, Bates and Anderson. “This one was sweet.”
Clovis West coach Craig Campbell, who has won a remarkable eight Central Section championships in his 12 years fully understands the historical significance of this team: “They are trying to write their own legacy and their own stamp on it and this group has taken it to another level.”
There was talk circling around the crowd of 4,000 or so at Selland Arena, the host of the Central Section Finals the past 11 years, if this Clovis West team is one of the greatest teams in the section’s history, among the likes of the great San Joaquin Memorial teams of the 1970s and the 2001 state champion Hanford team. A fun discussion indeed, much like barbershop talk comparing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls vs the 1985-86 Boston Celtics.
But first, Clovis West had business to attend to and held only a 12-8 lead after the first quarter. But, this was a Clovis team they were familiar with, beating them during league play by spreads of 43 and 39 points.
Led by the steady, unflapping point guard play of Marquez, Clovis West then took flight, outscoring Clovis 17-5 in the second quarter, eight of those points coming in the paint from the 6-foot, Arizona State-bound Sanders.
It was then Golden Eagles sprinted from there as the nation’s No. 5 ranked team by USA Today and Cal-Hi Sports No. 2 used their signature defense to stifle the Cougars throughout the game, holding the two-seed to 18.4% shooting for the game, aided by 15 total steals and a 25-9 scoring advantage in the second half.
“I thought we did a good job in the first quarter but they just grinded us down,” said Clovis head coach Greg Clark, who guided the Cougars to the title game in just his second season. “They [Clovis West] are just very good. They’re phenomenal.”
And on a team that boasts five seniors who have Division I scholarships (The Fab4, Tess Amundsen and sophomore Maddie Campbell’s multiple offers as well) and you have a well-balanced squad, a team where a two or three can shine on any given night.
But, this championship game belonged to Sanders as she finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals and three blocks. Madison Campbell, the coach’s daughter hit two 3s in the game and scored eight points with Bates chipping in eight as well. Sanders was also Clovis West’s representative of the Fighting Spirit Award, a player who exemplified hustle, team work, enthusiasm and plays the game in the spirit of outstanding sportsmanship.
“This team feels like sisters, we want to win for each other,” said Bates, a guard who will be attending UCSB. “It’s never about scoring for us, we all have different roles and all focus on making each us better. We want to be unselfish.”
Clovis West was awarded the No. 1 seed in the Southern bracket in the CIF State Tournament Open Division, the state’s top division, regardless of school size or whether it’s public or private.
Nevertheless on this special night, the Golden Eagles stood out, planting a flag that will wave forever.
“I get a little more nostalgic because I realize how hard this is to do, and now I appreciate it more,” said Campbell. “It’s pretty special. I told them to really appreciate what they’ve done.”