By Paul Meadors, Sports Editor
An early season gauge for an extremely talented team, the Clovis West girls basketball team took on the No. 1 ranked high school team in the nation and found some answers.
Some they liked and some they didn’t like.
Meeting in the championship game of their own Nike Central Valley Showdown, the Golden Eagles (5-1) fell to St. Mary’s of Stockton 70-47, the defending California open state champions who went 34-1 last season with virtually everyone returning.
“Although we played St. Mary’s much closer than the rest of the field, we were not pleased with our effort and execution,” said Coach Craig Campbell. “We don’t ever play to the scoreboard. It wasn’t that we lost or that we lost by 23, but rather that we didn’t compete or execute at the level we expect.”
Clovis West, the defending D-1 Central Section champions, shot themselves in the foot early by missing at least five layups in the first half of play, no doubt finding resistance against the Rams (5-0) athleticism and height. They boast the nation’s elite sophomore in Aquira Decosta, a 6’2” inside presence who disrupted shot after shot.
“They are so athletic and fast,” said point guard and sharpshooter Danae Marquez, who was held to two points. “One defender comes after another and you don’t know what to expect. It’s like a frenzy.”
Interestingly enough, the Rams and Eagles run the same type of zone-press defense, the goal being to tire out the opposition and force them into mistakes. But at least on this night, the advantage went to St. Mary’s. They meet again in Stockton on January 4.
“You have to make St. Mary’s pay for their aggressive style and we didn’t do that,” added Campbell. “Those missed lay ups could have momentarily taken the wind out of their sails, but instead were deflating to us to work so hard and not convert.”
St. Mary’s led 17-9 after one quarter and increased their lead to 38-22 going into halftime with Decosta leading the way with 14 points. She finished the night with 17 points and 9 rebounds, sitting out most of the second half.
Meagan Anderson scored 13 points and Bre’yanna Sanders and Sarah Bates chipped in with 10 points apiece. All three players, and Marquez, are all juniors.
Tom Gonzalves, the Rams coach who grew up in the Central Valley in Hanford, respects the program that Campbell has built and looks forward to showcasing his team with tournaments in Arizona and Washington D.C. during the winter break.
“I have a lot of respect for Clovis West and we’ve played each other a lot so I have an idea of what works,” Gonzalves said after the game, before adding that two of his best players were out with injuries. “I know they’re going to spread the court with their shooters so we had to stay out of foul trouble and play smart.”
And the positives to take away from this game, according to Coach Campbell?
“They should bounce back well. They are all disappointed in how they performed so that’s good that they identify and take ownership. We have a long season ahead with lots of opportunity to improve as a basketball team.”
The Eagles started off the tournament with a bang with wins over Chavez (101-9), Valley Christian of San Jose (62-32) and Oak Ridge of El Dorado Hills (65-49). They continue a tough pre-season schedule by playing in the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona the weekend of December 17-19.