TRAC Meet; Four familiar schools battle for girls section supremacy
Clovis West, Clovis North, Clovis and Buchanan – the top 4 teams in the TRAC – are ready to duke it out again in the new created Open Division.
It’s gonna be deja-vu all over again.
The newly-created Open Division in the Central Section – the top 4 girls teams regardless of school size or division – will feature familiar foes in an all-TRAC edition with Clovis West, Clovis North, Clovis and Buchanan. So lace ‘em up girls – you’ll once again drag each other up and down the floor and fight tooth and nail on every possession. Such is the TRAC and such will be the four games they’ll play against each other.
The players have grown up playing each other and the coaches know every tiny nuance of every player – even down to the type of chewing gum they prefer. All semi-kidding aside, a guaranteed Open Division champ from Clovis Unified isn’t such a bad thing isn’t it?
Here’s a breakdown of each team in the playoffs, key players, how they match up with their first opponents, and predictions mixed in for good ol’ fashioned debate.
Open Division No. 1 Clovis West (25-4) vs No. 4 Buchanan (18-10)
Saturday, Feb. 22 at 3:00 p.m.
The Golden Eagle Lowdown: The perennial section and state power continue to roll through Central Section opponents, finishing 10-0 in league with just four losses on the season, all in out-of-Section tournaments. They are currently ranked No. 12 in the state by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 24 in the nation by MaxPreps, averaging 68 points per game while giving up 43. And just how dominant has Clovis West been in the last six years? Well, they’ve only lost one game to a section opponent in that span – a 40-36 loss at Clovis North last year. Despite only one senior starter in Aaliyah Seuell, the Craig Campbell-coached squad is a disciplined bunch driven by culture and a killer mindset that gives them an edge whenever they step onto the court. They’ll beat you off the dribble or from the perimeter, and that unrelenting pressure defense frustrates opponents to no end. Oh yeah, and they’ve won seven straight D-I titles and have advanced to the CIF SoCal Open Division title game three consecutive years, winning the state title in 2017. Some thought this was a rebuilding year – this team has proved otherwise.
The Players: Not only is junior guard Nikki Tom the team’s best player and leading scorer but she’s matured into a leader, a trusted ball handler who is a threat from the outside and can finish smoothly with either hand. She is complemented by Seuell, a 5-foot-10 inside/outside threat and consistent scorer. Guards Alyssa Kuniyoshi, Kendall Jackson, Alexa Silva and Jada Oatman, all juniors, are solid players and 6-foot freshman Etoyah Montgomery is not fazed by big moments. Justyce Harris, another junior, is tough underneath and not afraid to mix it up.
Clovis West Will Win Open If: Simple – they play Clovis West basketball. Even an off game (or two) for the Golden Eagles will result in an eighth straight title, that’s how well-coached and talented they are.
The Bear Lowdown: Under third-year head coach Adam Wall, Buchanan has steadily improved each year – both in skill and toughness. While a 5-5 league record may look pedestrian that’s not the whole story. They actually led Clovis West 33-19 at halftime before faltering 61-56 at home, then three days later lost 70-67 to Clovis North. In addition, they split with No. 3 seed Clovis – a 45-43 loss on the road and a 66-58 home win. The Bears play with intensity – especially on defense – running multiple sets on offense; they’re not afraid to bomb it away or attack the rim. When they move the ball they are extremely efficient. Unselfishness helps them thrive. In being placed in the 4-team Open Division, this is the first time the Bears have been in a playoff semi-final game since 2012 – and they have never been in the state playoffs. This program is certainly one of the top 4 in the section and they are out to prove it.
The Players: Buchanan has five girls averaging double figures, making it hard for the opposition to key on just one. Senior Morgan Mathis is the school’s all-time leading scorer and she can put the ball through the hoop. In addition, senior-mate Sarah Snider is terrific on the perimeter and has to be accounted for at all times. Junior Ashtyn Arnold has made a name for herself as a tough, hard-nosed player and Raegan Stermer has emerged as an offensive threat. Junior point guard Olivia Garcia makes the team go and can break a press by herself. This is a tough group of gals.
Buchanan Will Win Open If: They move as one, get hot from beyond the arc and convert off turnovers.
Clovis West vs Buchanan Matchup: A matchup that’s intriguing for many reasons. First, the Bears can only claim one good half against the Golden Eagles out of four, when they executed a ton of back-door layups and led by 14 at half before being outscored 42-25 the rest of the way. In their second meeting Clovis West tightened the screws, holding the Bears to 24 total points including zero field goals in the second half. Yep, you read that right. Clovis West wore down the Bears late in both their meetings and will look to get its relentless, trapping defense working early (fire! fire!). Coach Campbell always has new wrinkles prepared for the playoffs, he never shows his hand early. So, can Buchanan make the necessary adjustments? Clovis West’s Nikki Tom is such a heady player; she’s calm, cool, collected and almost automatic from the free-throw line – the perfect makeup for late-game situations. Buchanan’s X-Factor is their defense – they’ll have to play their best game of the year in a hostile situation to knock off the 7-time defending section champs.
The Prediction: Tom, Seuell and company are too much for the Bears: Clovis West 60 Buchanan 44.
Open Division No. 2 Clovis North (21-7) vs No. 3 Clovis (21-8)
Saturday, Feb. 22 at 6:00
The Bronco Lowdown: The No. 23 ranked team by Cal-Hi Sports is certainly talented and has won some big-time – albeit very close – games this season: No. 8 St. Mary’s (55-54), No. 15 Bishop O’Dowd (65-64) and No. 16 Cardinal Newman (44-43). According the MaxPres, they have the toughest strength of schedule of any team in the section, including Clovis West. The Broncos play a steady game, man-to-man defense and can push the tempo when needed. This is a year the Heather Long-coached team has pointed to since seniors Savannah Tucker and Rowan Hein started as freshman. Add in the emergence of 6-foot Laney Amundsen and they have an excellent trio. They went 7-3 in league with losses at home to Clovis West 71-59, 54-32 on the road and a 77-65 setback at Clovis. They are a driven group that certainly wants another crack at a section title.
The Players: Tucker and Hein are the centerpieces of the team, four-year varsity players with tons of experience. Tucker, a guard signed with Long Beach State and the school’s all-time leading scorer, can flat out score. She has speed to burn and knows how to get to the rack (and free throw line), improving her range over the years. Hein, a University of Denver signee, is a 5-foot-11 do-it-all point guard. Amundsen, a junior, has established herself as a legitimate inside presence on both ends of the court and a pair of sophomore guards – Asha Sra and Taylor Pacheco – add shooting.
Clovis North Will Win Open If: Tucker and Hein play lights-out like they did in the early part of the season when they were knocking off state-ranked opponents.
The Cougar Lowdown: Clovis has had an excellent season, 21 wins against eight losses including a 6-4 record in the TRAC, largely considered the toughest public school league in the state. They were on the brink of being ranked in the state top 25 after soundly beating Clovis North 77-65 at home. However, the Cougars were dealt a blow when leading scorer Avery Evans broke her wrist on Jan. 31 in a 66-58 loss at Buchanan. The following game they fell 71-33 at Clovis North but regrouped and played Clovis West tough at home in a 52-38 loss to finish league. Head coach Greg Clark is a detailed-oriented coach and has an uncanny ability to put players in positions to thrive. They aren’t the most athletic team but make up for it by being in the right spots at the right time. Team cohesiveness a strength.
The Players: The loss of Avery Evans certainly hurts as the Cougars have to make up close to the 15 points per game she averages. But there’s still senior Chloe Van Ness, a silent assassin who can nail 3-pointer after 3-pointer; she’s averaging over four per game and has hit as many six in a quarter this season. Kiley Butchert does a little bit of everything on the offense end and Megan Esler nets close to 10 points a game. Kelsey Delgado is a solid point guard they’ll need to throughout the playoffs.
Clovis Will Win The Open If: Their role players step up in the absence of Evans and Van Ness goes on a tear from 3-point land, opening up shots for others.
Clovis North vs Clovis Matchup: We hate to pound this into the ground, but it certainly would have been fun to watch this game with a healthy Evans. But alas, the Cougars will be shorthanded when they march into Bronco territory, a place they were soundly beaten by 38 points on Feb. 4. The key for Clovis is to contain Tucker and Hein and force other players to beat them. Rebounding will be huge factor for the Cougars as Evans was also their top rebounder – she gathered 13 in their win against the Broncos. If they can battle on the board they have more than a puncher’s chance. On the flip side, Clovis North must get out on the 3-point line and challenge Van Ness, keeping the Cougars’ 3-point shooting at bay. The Broncos also have a clear advantage underneath – Amundsen should be able to control the rebounding. Tucker will be tough to contain in this one, she’s on a mission to win the school’s first Central Section girls basketball title after losing two straight to Clovis West.
The Prediction: Clovis North will prevail on their home court behind Tucker’s big scoring night: Broncos 63-50.