After experiencing an uncertain offseason where COVID-19 threatened to cancel the girls’ basketball season, Clovis West head coach Craig Campbell summarized his emotions in eight words after his Golden Eagles returned to action Tuesday.
“It’s just so darn good to be back.”
Despite a slightly rushed preseason, the eight-time defending Central Section champions resumed their dominant play from last season.
Clovis West raced to a 32-1 lead after the first quarter, helping the Golden Eagles win their season opener against Sanger, 88-21.
But Campbell said Tuesday night meant more than a victory. He reflected on the path Clovis West took to reach the basketball court after a year off it.
“When we got to November and December and the [COVID-19] numbers were spiking, I was going, ‘Man, we really might not have a season,’” Campbell said. “Then, the ‘Let Them Play’ movement got going and made some changes, and I told our team that I thought a season was going to happen.”
But Campbell said he was disappointed when only outdoor high-contact sports were initially allowed to resume in the California Department of Public Health’s guidance on Feb.19.
It wasn’t until March 2 that indoor high-contact sports were permitted to resume as well. Campbell received a last-minute phone call that the girls’ basketball season was a go.
“I got a call Friday afternoon that said the team could get in the gym that next Monday,” Campbell said. “We weren’t ready for that. We were on our way to a club tournament.”
Clovis West practiced 14 times before playing its first game on Tuesday, compared to 24 practices before last season. Sophomore Etoyah Montgomery said the truncated preseason did not impact the Golden Eagles’ chemistry on the court.
“We clicked, because it’s just like practice when we do it together,” Montgomery said. “We all play great together and have fun with each other.”
Montgomery led Clovis West with 18 points on Tuesday. The sophomore forward dominated at the rim, scoring either by driving into the paint or putting up a second-chance bucket off a rebound.
She also displayed range to her game, knocking down a 3-pointer in the third quarter as her last bucket.
Montgomery was the lone non-senior starter for Clovis West. UC Irvine-bound Nikki Tom, Concordia-bound Kendall Jackson and Justyce Harris, and Alyssa Kuniyoshi (who is fielding Division-II offers) rounded out the starting lineup as seniors.
Kuniyoshi scored 13 points on Tuesday, Tom and Jackson each finished with six, and Harris added four.
“Those are four-year varsity kids and they just get it,” Campbell said. “They get the culture, work ethic and detail. They’ve really set the tone for these younger kids.”
Among the “younger kids” are two girls who made their Clovis West debuts on Tuesday — freshman Athena Tomlinson and junior Michaela Young.
Tomlinson was active on defense, playing with high hands and trapping Sanger’s guards before they passed half-court. Offensively, she attacked the paint often, totaling 12 points in her first high school game.
“I like how Athena played very aggressive as a freshman,” Montgomery said. “She just went out there and played her game, and I thought she did really well.”
Young, a transfer from Hanford, chipped in nine points — but that’s not what grabbed Montgomery’s attention.
“Her defense was great,” Montgomery said, “especially her on-ball defense and her ability to get steals.”
Clovis West’s defense kept Sanger from recording a field goal until the 7:27 mark in the second quarter. The Golden Eagles led by 50 points at halftime, 59-9, and 60 after the third quarter, 73-13, coasting to their first win of the season.
Clovis West (1-0) will play its next scheduled game at home against Kingsburg on Wed. April 14.