What. A. Year.
I have had the privilege to witness some incredible feats of athleticism during the 2016-17 school year standing on the sidelines during football games, sitting in the stands for basketball games and in the bleachers, spitting seeds at baseball and softball games. So much so that it’s not uncommon for me to get so caught up in the action that I become more fan than reporter. Forgive me, readers, for I know not what I do.
In all, the five Clovis Unified schools combined to win 17 of the 23 Division I Valley championships, many in dramatic fashion. To be sure, the year was lined with stories that could fill a book, but none were bigger than the Clovis West girls basketball team and its historic run to a CIF State Open Division title and a No. 1 national ranking by ESPN and MaxPreps. We may never see a high school team like this in a very, very long time.
But there was more to the 12 months of high school sports than just girls basketball state championships. Keeping tabs on every sport was akin to a parent going a million miles an hour following their own kids’ activities. Then again, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
All things considered, so much good stuff happened this year in the Tri-River Athletic Conference that it was tough to narrow the categories down and choose just one winner. But we don’t give out participation ribbons here, these puppies are earned. In any event, it was a welcome challenge to pack everything into one massive piece you are able to devour like a bowl of sugar cereal on a Saturday morning.
So, without further ado (drum roll please …), I present to you the Third Annual Best of the TRAC Awards:
Team of the Year: Clovis West girls basketball
The credentials: The Golden Eagles went 34-2, won their 12th consecutive TRAC title, a fifth consecutive Central Section title, and then the crowning jewel – the 2017 CIF State Open Division Championship in a rousing 44-40 win over No. 1 seed Archbishop Mitty at Golden 1 Arena in Sacramento. They were named the Cal-Hi Sports Team of the Year and finished as No. 1 team in the nation by ESPN and MaxPreps.
The story: Pure dominance. The 2016-17 team was hands-down the greatest girls basketball team in Central Section history and an easy choice for the TRAC Team of the Year. Extremely unselfish, they were a team that rarely had the same leading scorer each game, were as good a three-point shooting team in the country and wore teams down with their pressure defense. The roster included a remarkable group of five seniors signed to play Division I in Danae Marquez (San Jose State), Megan Anderson (San Jose State), Sarah Bates (UCSB), Bre’yanna Sanders (Arizona State) and Tess Amundsen (Boise State), and also a sophomore, Maddie Campbell (coach’s daughter) with multiple big-time college offers.
It was a season under the tutelage of Craig Campbell that came together in a perfect storm, bursting not only on a state level but a national level as well. They took on the toughest schedule in the country traveling to Hawaii to compete in the Iolani Classic where they met Archbishop Mitty in the final, losing 76-75 in overtime, then to Arizona to compete in the Nike Tournament of Champions where they beat four nationally-ranked opponents on four days and handed Miami Country Day, the Florida state champion, its only loss of the season in the championship game 67-45. They were now an elite basketball team.
After winning a fifth-straight Central Section D-I championship, a 54-22 win over Clovis, they were placed in the Open Division for the CIF state playoffs where they were seeded No. 1 in SoCal. The Golden Eagles then won two games at home before beating No. 2 Long Beach Poly at Long Beach State 53-44 in the finals, setting up a rematch against Archbishop Mitty for all the marbles in Sacramento. Down 30-37 with 5:37 left in the game, Bates took over, scoring 11 straight points including two three-pointers, and with 5.2 seconds remaining Marquez sealed the game, a 44-40 triumph to claim the school’s first state basketball championship.
High praise: “The balanced offense, defense and the way the girls played together was like clockwork. They didn’t have a superstar but could beat teams with superstars due to all of those other factors – there were no weak links in the chain. The state has had some unbeaten No. 1 teams and some teams with superstars who had more notable achievements so I wouldn’t put Clovis West 2017, for example, in top 10 all-time, but one of top 10 favorite teams to have seen in person.” – Mark Tennis, Cal-Hi Sports Editor.
Boys Athlete of the Year: Zach Presno, Buchanan football and baseball
The credentials: Presno was a three year varsity starting catcher on Buchanan’s national-caliber baseball teams and played linebacker and running back on the football field. He earned first-team all-TRAC honors in baseball for three straight years and two years in football. A stellar defensive catcher, in 2017 Presno hit .338 with 29 RBI and six home runs and in football registered 82 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions on defense to go along with 502 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on offense.
The story: Presno is a true impact player on the field whether it be baseball or football and was a centerpiece on baseball teams that went an astounding 87-9. He was also a dominant linebacker and doubled as a running back this season. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior was good enough to pursue a Division I football scholarship but will attend Fresno State to play baseball. He was a part of two Valley championship teams (2015, 2016) and the state and national No. 1 team his junior season that went an incredible 30-1. His defense alone has been Division I college level for two years.
But as decorated an athlete as Presno is, what sets him apart is his leadership, work ethic and character – and all his coaches rave about those qualities. Not a “rah-rah” guy, when Presno talked people listened. When talented freshman running back Kendall Milton was moved up to varsity at the midpoint of the season, Bears football coach Matt Giordano told him to watch everything that Presno does on and off the field and follow his example. That’s how highly regarded Presno is.
High praise: “Zach is a one-of-a-kind athlete and is the epitome of character, class and work ethic. You couldn’t ask for a better young man on and off the field – he is trustworthy, reliable and dependable. He’s an awesome kid. He’s very influential on campus with his classmates and he is very influential with his teammates as well. He leads by example.” – Buchanan baseball coach Tom Donald
Honorable mention: Tyson Fraser, Clovis football, baseball; Trey Lake, Clovis football, basketball, volleyball; Justin Mejia, Clovis wrestling; Daly Meinert, Clovis North tennis; Adrian Antunez, Clovis West basketball; Jaylen Johnson, Clovis East basketball, volleyball.
Girls Player of the Year: Danae Marquez, Clovis West basketball
The credentials: Went 117-15 in a four-year varsity basketball career with four TRAC and Central Section titles and was a three-year starter and three-time all-league selection, earning MVP honors her junior and senior seasons. Named 2nd team Cal-Hi Sports in 2017 she averaged just under 10 points per game, 6.6 assists and 3.7 steals. The Clovis West nomination for the B’nai B’rith Award she maintained a 3.8 GPA.
The story: Marquez was the heart and soul of a program that reached the apex with Clovis West’s 2017 state title, her value not measured in statistics but in leadership, toughness, and intangibles. Oftentimes the shortest player on the court at 5-foot-4, she handled the ball in the toughest of situations – from Valley titles games to seven total Open Division state games – and her clutch free throws with 5.2 seconds left sealed the team’s 44-40 victory to clinch the 2017 CIF Open Division basketball state championship.
In the Clovis West program since the fourth grade along with classmates Bre’yanna Sanders and Megan Anderson, she was the player her teammates most respected and a true general on the court – an extension of her coach Craig Campbell. A great shooter, distributor, and a pest on defense (she recorded 10 steals in the opening state playoff game against Troy), she honed her skills with hours upon hours in the gym and could often be seen playing pickup games anytime of the year – and never shied away from pickup games against anyone – male or female. She’s attending San Jose State on a basketball scholarship and has cemented her legacy as not only one of Clovis West’s best of all time but in the history of the Central Section.
High praise: “Danae was our lifeline this year. She was the epitome of what our team and kids were about: selfless, tough minded and played bigger than she is. In the most pressure-packed situations, Danae was always at her best.” – Clovis West coach Craig Campbell.
Honorable mention: Brooke Tjerrild, Clovis North track and field; Megan Anderson, Clovis West basketball, cross country; Bre’yanna Sanders, Clovis West basketball; Sarah Bates, Clovis West basketball; Mia Castillo, Clovis East soccer; Stephanie Bartel, Buchanan swimming.
Coach of the Year: Craig Campbell, Clovis West girls basketball
The credentials: Over a 12-year coaching career at Clovis West Craig Campbell has an overall record of 299-73, 12 straight TRAC championships, and eight Central Section D-I titles, including the last five in a row. This year won the school’s first ever state title, capturing the CIF Open Division championship – considered the toughest state tournament in the nation. Finished the season No. 1 in the nation by ESPN and MaxPreps computer rankings with a 34-2 overall record.
The story: The story of Craig Campbell’s coaching success began while playing basketball at the University at Nevada-Reno in the early 1990s when he, on a whim, coached a couple of junior high basketball teams to undefeated season. From there the accomplishments and accolades are many, from a Nevada high school state title in 2001 to 2017 where it all came together in a perfect storm, capped off with the CIF Open Division title with five Division I-bound seniors and his sophomore daughter, Maddie.
A master at putting his players in a position to thrive on the court and getting the absolute best out of them, one has to only watch Campbell’s intensity for a mere minute to witness his attention to detail and his demands for on-the-court perfection. Involved in every step of development for his up and coming players starting with the Little Hoopsters program, he is a true student of the game from pouring over game film to the detailed game notes he prepares for his players. Those notes and game plans paid off mightily in Clovis West’s run through the state playoffs when they beat three McDonald’s All-Americans in succession in Kianna Smith of Troy, California’s all-time leading scorer Destiny Littleton of Bishop’s La Jolla and Ayanna Clark of Long Beach Poly. They held Littleton to 17 points, well below her average of 44 and the 6-foot-4 Clark to five points and three rebounds.
High praise: “We have tremendous respect for their coaching staff and program. They play hard and with such great court chemistry that most of their field goals are assisted from an unselfish pass. They are well coached and the girls are a class act off the court.” – Archbishop Mitty coach Sue Phillips.
Honorable mention: James Patrick, Clovis baseball; Brian Weaver, Buchanan cross country and track; Mike Noel, Clovis softball; Scott Torosian, Clovis West girls water polo; Nic Maes, Buchanan boys water polo; Adam Reid, Clovis West swimming.
Boys’ Team of the Year: Buchanan water polo
The credentials: Went 25-5 on the season, dominated Central Section opponents along the way, and won the D-I Central Section water polo title by crushing Clovis 8-3.
The story: 6 a.m. practices, hours upon hours in the pool, and a stingy defense mixed with opportunistic scoring is what it takes to be an elite water polo team. And the Buchanan boys took advantage of those thing and more this season when they won the D-I Valley title. Their five losses on the season were to out-of-section opponents in tournaments and went a perfect 10-0 in league, outscoring opponents 153-33. Revenge was on their mind during the playoffs as last year they were upset as the No. 1 seed at home to eventual champion Golden West – they would trounce them 21-5 this year in the playoff semifinals. They were led by senior goalie Kyle McKenney, a Pepperdine commit with 10.7 saves per game, sophomore Kaleb Archer (77 goals, 44 assists) and senior Robert Phillips (66 goals).
High praise: “We saw lots of top teams out of the area that pushed us and helped us learn more about ourselves as a team. The guys learned how they need to play to be successful. We hit our stride well for playoffs and finished strong. This year’s team took a lot of pride in playing very strong defense. Goalie Kyle McKenney and attacker Robert Phillips set an example that it was never going to be easy to get a goal against us.” – Buchanan head coach Nic Maes.
Honorable mention: Clovis baseball, Clovis soccer, Buchanan golf, Buchanan wrestling, Clovis North tennis.
Girls’ Team of the Year: Clovis softball
The credentials: Went 25-6 with a co-TRAC championship and the Central Section Division I softball title with a 2-1 comeback win over Central. Finished the season ranked No. 16 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 14 by MaxPreps.
The story: With a mix of sophomores, seniors and a strong junior class, it was basically a tale of three seasons for the Cougars. Part I: Starting off the year with seven-straight wins, they outscored opponents 62-9, which included winning the Las Vegas Classic. But the streak ended with an upset 6-1 loss to Bullard which prompted some refocusing. Part II: They reeled off nine wins in a row but then lost four of five, including their first of two league losses to Central. Part III: Another loss to Central (they were TRAC co-champs at 8-2) the Cougars played their best softball of the year at the right time, the final game an intense, come-from-behind 2-1 victory, yep, over Central for the D-I Central Section championship at Margie Wright Diamond, the school’s seventh under head coach Mike Noel. Junior pitcher Danielle Lung went the distance striking out 11 with sophomore Grace Henson providing the game-tying RBI in the top of the sixth and (junior) Ashley Kincaid the game winner in the 7th.
The team was led all season by Lung, a Fresno State commit, the TRAC Pitcher of the Year and her 24-4 record, 1.04 ERA and 263 strikeouts in 182 innings. First team all-league members Mackenzie Byrd and Emily Puente and trio of juniors in catcher Jordyn Martinez, shortstop Tori Mueller and infielder Elaine Caballero were an integral part of their success. Head coach Mike Noel was named the Cal-Hi Sports Softball Coach of the Year and also registered his 600th career win during the 2017 season.
High praise: “Our girls learned team accountability. They understood what was necessary to win and they were comfortable with the moments that playoff pressure brings. The love they showed for each other made this a special one.” – Clovis head coach Mike Noel.
Honorable mention: Clovis West water polo, Clovis West swim and dive, Buchanan track and field, Buchanan cross country.
Boys Game of the Year: Clovis over Buchanan baseball Valley title game
Facing a Buchanan baseball team who had not only beat them four times during the season but was once ranked No. 1 in the nation, the Cougars again matched up against the Bears in the final game of the season – the Central Section D-I baseball championship. But this time the Cougars didn’t flinch and rode the strong pitching of Darby Tatum and the mad dash of home on a wild pitch by Conor Jorgensen to break a 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth to upset Buchanan 2-1 at a packed Rawhide Stadium. The gritty bunch never wavered in their belief despite Buchanan’s array of Division I college talent sprinkled all over the field, saving their best overall game for last when it mattered most.
Girls Game of the Year: Clovis West girls beat Archbishop Mitty for CIF state basketball title
The stage was set when No. 1 in the nation Archbishop Mitty and No. 2 Clovis West clashed at the Golden 1 Center on March 5 for the CIF Open Division state championship – and the game was one for the ages. Down 30-35 entering the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles outscored the six-time state champs 14-5 in the final quarter to capture the title. But it was how they clawed back that will be remembered forever. After being benched for the first half for poor play, senior Sarah Bates scored 11 straight points starting at the 5:38 mark in the fourth from an on-the-money length of the court baseline pass from Danae Marquez that resulted in a three-point play, igniting a wild sequence that included two three-pointers that culminated in the historic 44-40 win.
Boys Performance of the Year: Jonah Wilson at the CIF State Track and Field Championships
In his own backyard at Veterans Memorial Stadium, the Clovis senior won a surprising gold medal in his No. 2 event, the shot put, and placed a disappointing third in his signature event, the discus, at the CIF State Track and Field Championships. Wilson was the nation’s leader and held the California state record in the discus at 221-5 (also good for 11th best high school mark of all-time), but faltered with a throw of 198-2. However, he bounced back to win the shot put at 65-2 ¾, besting cousin Jacob Wilson of Buchanan 63-8.
Wilson, who’s attending Washington next year, said after the meet: “I’m stoked, I did not expect to come out here and throw a PR and ultimately win the state championship. I put some things together and it ultimately happened.”
Girls Performance of the Year: Brooke Tjerrild at the Central Section Masters Track and Field Meet
The Cal-Poly bound senior had herself quite a day at the Central Section Masters in winning the pole vault with a then-personal best jump of 13-5, helped her 4X100 relay team strike gold with a time of 47.65, and for good measure added a third place finish in the triple jump at 37-4, a personal best. In addition to participating in cheer and gymnastics, Tjerrild also maintained a 4.5 GPA and was named the Clovis North Female Athlete of the Year. She placed second in the pole vault at the CIF State Track and Field Championships to national record holder Rachael Baxter of Anaheim-Canyon who jumped 14 feet.
“Brooke was one of the first Broncos on the track and also one the last to compete that day [at the Masters] and gave everything she had for the team. She never ceases to amaze me and I could not have been more happy for her that day.” – Clovis North track and field coach Rich Brazil.
Incredible stories from Around the TRAC
A season of perfection
A wrestling season for the ages – and the record books – for the Clovis duo of Justin Mejia and Seth Nevills, two of the greatest in the history of California. Consider these mind-boggling facts: Mejia became just the second wrestler in California history to win four state individual titles when he beat Selma’s Robert Garcia IV 3-2 at 126 pounds, capping off a 38-0 senior season and a 168-1 career while Nevills, a junior, won a state title at 285 and completed his third straight undefeated season in pure dominating fashion. Nevills is now 127-0 for his career, finishing the year 37-0 and get this: all his victories were by pins. For those of you keeping track at home that’s a 259-1 which begs the question – was there a more decorated pair of teammates in the country, in any sport at any level?
Decisions, decisions, decisions
The football offers kept coming and coming and coming, 27 total in fact, for Clovis West’s Adrian Martinez despite verbally pledging to Cal back in October. But when a coaching shakeup took place at Berkeley, it made the talented quarterback consider other options. That’s when the Tennessee Volunteers swooped in a landed a verbal commitment for the No. 32-ranked recruit in the country, spurring such powerhouses as Alabama, Georgia, Louisville, Oklahoma, Miami and Oregon. And yes, Fresno State did make one of his earliest offers. Armed with a strong arm, elusive speed, and all the intangibles a quarterback needs to succeed at the next level, we’ll all be glued to the TV when he suits up in Orange and White. Not since 2015 teammate Caleb Kelly has there been a more decorated recruit in the Central Section.
The night of the Cougars
June 3 will be a day long remembered in the annals of Clovis High lore. It was a day that saw the boys volleyball team win the Division II SoCal championship on the road against No. 1 seeded Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks, then a few hours later the softball team came back to defeat Central 2-1 to win the D-I Central Section championship and to cap off the trifecta the baseball team defeated heavily favored Buchanan 2-1 to capture the D-I Valley title. So, in a span of eight hours they captured three Valley titles adding legacy to the credo – “It’s good to be a Cougar.”
Lose Valley, win state
The Clovis boys volleyball team was having a magical season – undefeated in league at 10-0 and marched to the D-I Central Section championship game with home court advantage. But chomping at the bit was Buchanan, the three-time defending champion. Well, sure enough, the Bears upset the Cougars in five games, after falling behind 0-2, seemingly crushing the Cougars confidence. But, assumptions can be dangerous and Clovis channeled their inner Rocky III and found their Eye of the Tiger (Eye of the Cougar?) and won two D-II State tournament home games en route to beating Notre Dame-Sherman Oaks 25-17, 25-19, 22-25, 25-23. They were led all year by a senior foursome of setter Trey Lake and hitters Zevan Williams, Akash Dhothar and Max Ogas.
Back-to-back kings of the mat
First of all, if you haven’t been to a dual meet between Buchanan and Clovis, what are you waiting for? It’s energy all around to the Nth degree and was a foreshadowing of things to come. But back in 2016, Buchanan wrestling dethroned five-straight state champion Clovis with an impressive performance in the state finals with a points total record, and, for an encore showed they were the new kings of the mat with another state crown this year, finishing ahead of Clovis for a second straight year. While not as dominant as 2016, the team was extremely balanced and featured two state champions with Anthony Montalvo (182) and Cade Belshay (220) and a second place from Joel Romero at 160.
Just keep swimming: 21 straight for Clovis West girls
The streak. That’s what’s become of the Clovis West girls swim and dive team – 21 years of Central Section supremacy in the water. This year the girls hoisted another championship at the Clovis Olympic Swim Complex (their home pool), dominating the competition once again besting second place Clovis North 479 to 332. Their relay teams, always strong, won all four events at the Valley meet and the 200 free team of Caitlyn Snyder, Jordan Gruce, Abby Samansky, and Skyler Elkington placed second in the state with a school record time of 1:33.77. And for good measure the 400 free relay team of Gruce, Snyder, Samansky, and Alison Clague placed second in state as well with a time of 3:24.44. The team will return a ton of girls next year in the quest for 22.
More cool stuff from Around the TRAC
Buchanan’s Jack Wilkins tied a Central Section record with four interceptions against Clovis in their 28-13 win on Oct 21. Who’s school record did he break? None other than his first-year head coach and former NFL defensive back Matt Giordano.
- Vance Walberg returned to Clovis West 16 years after he left a with 10 league and six Valley titles on his resume. He spent the last five years as an NBA assistant and 10 years before that in the college ranks. Despite being eliminated in the Central Section playoffs as the No. 2 seed, his team still had a 25-5 record, led by senior Adrian’s Antunez and his 24 points per game. Fast and furious basketball has returned to CW – and the TRAC is better for it.
- Buchanan girls cross country won a D-I championship with two extremely talented young runners in freshman Corie Smith and soph Megan Lowe. Smith won gold with the 19th best time for a freshman in state history at 17:48.5.
- Like the cross country team, the Buchanan girls track and field team dominated in the Central Section winning a Valley title literally running away. Smith and Lowe finished one and two in the 1600m and 3200m. They also finished 7th and 15th respectively in the state meet in the 3200m race.
- The Clovis West-Clovis girls water polo rivalry was alive and well this season, but the Golden Eagles had the final say in their upset 9-7 win at the Cougars home pool in front of a raucous crowd. They were led all year by goalie Hannah Duggins, Maddie Loggins and Caitlyn Snyder who scored the go-ahead goal in the championship game.
- On his way to winning an eighth Valley baseball title, Clovis coach James Patrick also became the all-time winningest baseball coach in the Central Section on April 4 in the Cougars’ 7-1 win over Clovis East, passing Mike Noakes. His record now stands at 719-248-3. He says he has two good years left in him.
- Speaking of Clovis baseball, did you know that before the Cougars upset Buchanan in the Valley title game, they had lost their last four regular season games (including two to Buchanan) and in the first two playoffs games beat Tulare Western 6-5 (two runs in 7th) and Centennial 7-5 in eight innings? Team of Destiny?
It’s true, the Buchanan baseball team loses four college bound Division I players from a 28-4 team but the sophomore class is loaded with infielders Brady Hormel and TJ Fondtain, pitchers Jacob King and Marco Saldana and outfielders Miguel and JD Ortiz. And don’t forget about Ortiz’ brother Alex, a junior. The trio are the sons of former MLB player Jose Ortiz (Oakland A’s, Colorado Rockies).
- Clovis boys soccer took home a Valley championship with a thrilling 3-1 win over Clovis North and finished the year 24-4. Braedon Rouff and Rubehn Martinez were top players.
- The Buchanan boys volleyball team was beaten soundly by Clovis twice in league and was down 0-2 at their place in the Valley title game. But, they had them right where they wanted them as they rallied to win three games to two to stun the Cougars for their fourth-straight Valley championship.
- Country club living: the Clovis West girls and Buchanan boys won Valley golf titles this year. It was CW’s fourth in a row and the first for Buchanan since 2006. Tyler Ashman won the individual title with a 71.
- Clovis North’s Daly Meinert finished his career as one of the top tennis players in Central Section history with a 105-5 record, three individual titles and two team titles. He’ll take his talents to Cal Poly. Oh yeah, it would have been fun to see him in other sports – he’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds.
- Janie Ellis of Clovis West went 29-0 this year, won her second consecutive Valley tennis title and helped her team win the D-I team title as well. Only a junior, what’s left for an encore?
- Badminton just ain’t for picnics and family reunions folks. The Clovis East girls won their second straight Valley title, beating Buchanan on May 11.