A year in review; the best of the TRAC

Photo by Nick Baker – The Buchanan Bears baseball team finished the season as the No. 1 team in the nation, winning their second consecutive D-1 Central Section championship with a remarkable 30-1 overall record and is the Clovis Roundup’s Sports Team of the Year.

Article By Paul Meadors, June 15th, 2016.

From the late August sunset that welcomes Friday night lights to the swish of a high-arching three-pointer to the runner crossing the finish line at the CIF State Track and Field meet, the 2015-16 was a year for the ages in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.

In all, teams from the TRAC won 19 of the 23 Division 1 Central Section championships and four teams (Buchanan baseball, wrestling, boys’ volleyball and Clovis West girls’ basketball) were highly ranked in the nation, including the No. 1 ranked Buchanan baseball team. In addition, there were numerous state-wide team and individual honors for our hard-working athletes.

But more importantly, we were all witness to the transformation of these student-athletes not only on the athletic field but in in the areas of personal growth and maturity. Just look at how far they’ve come in four years, three years, two years, a single year – that’s what matters most right?

It’s true – at the heart of Clovis Unified athletics is competition. But furthermore, it’s about the journey and the relationships that are forged; the molding of young men and women in preparation for the game of life.

The late Doc Buchanan, the beloved Clovis Unified superintendent from 1960-1991 who personally interviewed every head coach in the district, charged the following to his coaches: “We believe competition is an ingredient of high standards and an important motivational tool. We want you to teach students to win with class and to lose with dignity. But, we also want you to teach them that there is a lot more to being a winner than the final game score.”

Words that resonate today and are etched into the fabric of Clovis Unified athletics.

So, as we look back and reminisce at the year that was in the TRAC and dish out the second annual Best in TRAC Awards, we celebrate with those who were dedicated to the endless pursuit of victory with honor.

Team of the Year: Buchanan baseball

The Credentials: Finished season ranked No. 1 in the nation by MaxPreps and USA Today while going 30-1 on the season, 14-1 in the TRAC and winning their second consecutive D-1 Central Section championship and school’s sixth overall. Also named Cal-Hi Sports Team of the Year to go along with No. 1 state ranking.

The Story: The Tom Donald coached Bears completed one of the greatest seasons in Central Section history behind strong pitching, college-level defense and a grinding lineup from leadoff to number nine. Playing in one of the toughest leagues not only in the state but the nation, the Bears won their first 17 games of the season before suffering their lone loss, a 12-5 loss to Clovis North where the Broncos scored seven runs in one inning to break a 5-5 tie. The Bears capped off the stellar season with a 4-0 win over Clovis North in the Valley title game behind Grant Gambrell’s sensational 10 strikeout, complete game shutout. So think about this – the Bears were a bad inning away from a potential perfect season.

Cal-Hi Sports editor Mark Tennis, the absolute authority on all things related to California high school sports, said this: “I think it’s safe to say that this year’s Buchanan team would be among the top 25 in state history since the 2011 team at Buchanan was ranked No. 21 when we updated those all-time rankings last summer and this year’s team arguably was even better. I wouldn’t put either one ahead of Fresno High’s legendary 1958 team, but both are right up there with some of the great teams that Bullard had in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Individual honors start with Gambrell who was named All-American by USA Today and Baseball America, as well as first team Cal-Hi Sports. Senior second baseman J.T. Arruda was as good as they come defensively and a sensational junior class featured catcher Zach Presno, shortstop Jamal O’Guinn, third baseman and TRAC Offensive Player of the Year Quentin Selma and TRAC Pitcher of the Year Hunter Reinke.

How about this for a small sample of their eye-popping stats – the Bears outscored their opponents 229-61 on the season with 92 extra base hits on offense while only allowing 14. Their pitching staff had a team ERA of 1.45 and a collective team batting average of .352. Gambrell went 12-0 on the mound with a minuscule ERA of 0.69 and an incredible strikeout to walk ratio of 71 to 17 to go along with 35 RBI and five home runs on the season. As the No. 2 starter Reinke went 11-0 and Selma led the team with .443 average and 29 runs scored.

High Praise: “If you look at that team there was D-1 college talent all over the field. They had great team speed that always put pressure on their opponent; their infield defense was outstanding and their top two pitchers threw the heck out of the ball all year.” – Clovis North head coach Chris Patrick.

Coach of the Year: Tom Donald, Buchanan

The Credentials: Guided the Bears to a No. 1 state and national ranking en route to a 30-1 record and second consecutive D-1 Central Section championship. A career total of 438-121-4, 9 TRAC titles and six section titles.

The Story: In his 18th year at the helm, Donald has cemented his position as one of the state’s premier coaches and has created a baseball dynasty at Buchanan. Quick to extend gratitude to his experienced coaching staff, Donald constantly preached the process of the game rather than focusing on the end result – and what a result it was as the boys in blue devoured the competition from the opening game to the last, ending the season as the best high school in the nation. No stranger to high rankings (the 2011 team was No. 1 in ESPN RISE national poll) he is a master at preparing his team and has a gift for keeping his teams grounded during the season. A family man, whose son Jason joined his staff last season after retiring from pro baseball, Donald can often be seen leaving the baseball stadium hand in hand with his wife Debbie, the love of his life since meeting in junior high.

High Praise: “The most difficult obstacle in a high power program is consistency. Tom routinely produces high level teams but more importantly develops men of character. There is not a Buchanan baseball player that hasn’t learned what family, commitment, discipline, and work ethic is and that’s a true testament to what Tom instills in his players.” – Buchanan athletic director James Gambrell.

Honorable mention: Craig Campbell, Clovis West girls’ basketball; Jasara Gillette, Clovis East girls’ soccer, Vicki Samarin, Clovis East girls’ volleyball; Troy Tirapelle, Buchanan wrestling; Adam Reid, Clovis West swimming, Tony Amundsen Clovis North boys’ basketball.

Male Athlete of the Year: Josh Hokit, Clovis High

The Credentials: Four-year varsity wrestler and a major player in three state team championships in 2013, ‘14, ‘15 and one individual state championship in 2016 when the team placed second. Three-year varsity starter in football at safety and running back and named 2016 TRAC Player of the Year.

The Story: For those that witnessed Hokit both on the football field and on the wrestling mat, well, you certainly saw an absolute beast. After finishing fifth his sophomore year at 160 and second at 170 his junior year at the CIF State Boys Wrestling Championships Hokit met the challenge and won gold at 182. Never missing a varsity football game (39 straight), he saved his best for last as he rushed for 820 yards to go along with 8 touchdowns, tallying 94 total tackles from his strong safety position, leading the Cougars to an 11-2 overall record, a co-TRAC title and a birth in the D-1 Central Section championship game. Stories of his hitting prowess are already legendary; a referee once informed the Clovis football coaching staff that he was going to flag Hokit for hitting his opponents too hard during a game. After receiving numerous wrestling scholarship offers has decided to attend Fresno State University as a preferred football walk-on.

High Praise: “Josh is your ultimate competitor and when the lights come on there’s nobody that plays harder. He wants the team to be successful – it’s never about him and 100% about the team and doing everything in his power to help achieve success. It didn’t matter if it was on the field or on the mat, he brought his “A” game every time. He brought a physicality to the mat and football field that you don’t see much anymore. He’s a throwback in that regard.” – Clovis football coach Rich Hammond.

Honorable mention: Caleb Kelly, Clovis West football; Jayson Lee, Clovis North football; Jahvon Johnson, Clovis North basketball; Grant Gambrell, Buchanan baseball; Trey Semien, Clovis East football and basketball; A.J. Nevills, Clovis football and wrestling.

Female Athlete of the Year: Sienna Swain, Buchanan

The Credentials: A standout four-year starter in both softball and tennis, Swain led the Bears to two D-1 Central Section championships in both sports with 26-5 and 21-2 team records respectively. A shortstop, she was the 2016 TRAC softball Player of the Year and played both singles and doubles in tennis, going 27-5 overall.

The Story: It’s rare to see an athlete double up on tennis and softball, especially at a high caliber, but to put it all together in such a virtuoso performance as Swain did her senior year is a remarkable story in itself. In the Fall, she helped lead the Bears to a second consecutive Valley tennis title including the title-clinching point in her singles match against Stockdale. She then carried her mojo into the softball season hitting an astounding .523 with 29 RBI and 40 runs scored on the season, leading the Bears to a TRAC and Valley title. Fittingly, she caught the final out of the title game, a 2-0 victory over Clovis. More importantly Swain exemplified what it means to be a student-athlete with a 4.0 GPA.

High Praise: “Sienna is a natural leader who encourages her teammates and plays the game the way it is supposed to be played, always giving her all. She has been an absolute joy to coach, has an instinct for the game and is a very coachable young lady. In her four years with our team she has not only represented Buchanan Softball with amazing talent but also with great character.” – Buchanan softball coach Dean Gregory.

Honorable mention: Hannah Waller, Buchanan track; Christina Tran, Clovis East volleyball, Danae Marquez, Clovis West basketball; Cassidy Crouch, Clovis water polo, basketball, badminton; Lauren Moffett Clovis North cross country and track.

Girls’ Team of the Year: Clovis West girls’ basketball

The Credentials: 30-4 overall record, 10-0 TRAC record and a fourth straight D-1 Central Section championship. Advanced to the second round of the state’s Open Division, the top division in California. Finished the season ranked No. 6 by Cal-Hi Sports and No. 18 in the nation by USA Today.

The Story: A monster season, even by Clovis West’s lofty standards, led by co-TRAC MVPs Danae Marquez and Megan Anderson and fellow classmates Sarah Bates and Bre’yanna Sanders (all juniors). They were untouched by Central Section opponents, from the closest game being a 28-point win against Clovis on the road to the 31-point drubbing of Edison in the Valley title game. In fact, two of their four loses were to St. Mary’s of Stockton who at the time was the No. 1 team in the nation. A sharpshooting team (252 three pointers on the season) as well as extremely efficient (52% field goals on season), they came at opponents in waves with a relentless, full court defense. The team currently holds six Division 1 college scholarships for Marquez, Anderson, Bates, Sanders, transfer Tess Amundsen and coach Craig Campbell’s daughter, soon-to-be sophomore Madison Campbell.

High Praise: “This team was special early on by their ability to score. They became special when they committed to being great on defense and on the glass. They spent an incredible amount of time on their skill work.” – Clovis West Coach Craig Campbell.

Honorable mention: Clovis East volleyball, Clovis East soccer, Buchanan track and field; Clovis West swimming; Clovis water polo, Buchanan softball.

Boys’ Team of the Year: Buchanan wrestling

The Credentials: 2016 state champions with 274.5 points, the second highest score in the 44-year history of the state meet, a TRAC championship and three individual winners at the state meet. The Bears also secured the school’s highest national ranking – No. 5 by FloWrestling and InterMat.

The Story: First on the agenda was to jump over the mental hurdle that is their rival – Clovis High – the five-time defending state champion and TRAC nemesis. And sure enough, they took care of business in the most spectacular way in their dual against the Cougars by winning 32-27 gaining momentum and confidence along the way. And their mission was finally completed on March 5 at the CIF Wrestling Championships in Bakersfield as won the school’s second state title in dominating fashion. Producing three state champions in Matt Olguin (106), Ethan Leake (113) and Zakary Levatino (220) the Bears won on the strength of their balanced team which included state silver medalists D.J. Lloren, Abner Romero and Anthony Montalvo. The team was under the tutelage of head coach Troy Tirapelle, a three-time state champion himself.

High Praise: “Buchanan had a banner year and was lights out at the state championships. They scored the second highest point total in California history and it’s a credit to Troy and his coaching staff.” – Clovis head coach Steve Tirapelle.

Honorable mention: Buchanan volleyball, Clovis North golf, Clovis North tennis, Clovis West swimming, Clovis football.

Boys’ Game (match) of the Year: Clovis vs Buchanan wrestling dual

Quite possibly the biggest event not only in the Central Section but in the state and one with national ramifications as well, the Bears claimed superiority over the five-time state champion Cougars in a dual match made in heaven. Complete with a laser-light show and a raucous crowd of 2,500 packed into Clovis High’s gym, they witnessed California’s No. 1 and national No. 5 Buchanan beat second-ranked and national No. 8 rival Clovis 32-27.

Girls’ Game of the Year: Clovis vs Clovis East soccer

In front of an estimated 3,000 people this was a game for the ages as the undefeated Timberwolves (20-0-3) beat the Cougars 3-2 in the D-1 Central Section championship game on a goal by junior Peyton Kwalwasser in the second overtime period, securing the first title in school history.

Boys’ Performance of the Year: Clovis boys swimming 200 and 400 free relays state wins

One the biggest stage in the biggest meet of the year the freestyle Cougar relay teams electrified the crowd with not one but two state title at the CIF State Swimming and Diving Championships held at Clovis Olympic Swim Complex. The 200 team of Graham Hauss, Jacob Rolih, Jesse Serpa and Zach Koch got the party started then Hauss, Rolih, Seth Nabors and Koch finished off with a 400 dramatic race.

Girls’ Performance of the Year: Rhesa Foster long jump state title

A year and a half of frustration turned to elation as Clovis North track and field star Rhesa Foster won the state long jump title with a golden leap of 20 feet 7 ½ inches at the CIF State Track and Field Championships at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Foster missed her entire junior season with devastating knee injury and a hamstring injury derailed some of her senior season save for one last glorious jump before attending the University of Oregon.

Boys’ Play of the Year: Adrian Martinez coast to coast game winner

Super sophomore Adrian Martinez, who earlier in the day received a football scholarship offer from Fresno State University as a quarterback, drove the length of the court off an inbounds pass against Clovis North, pulled up at the free throw line, and sunk a game-winner as the buzzer sounded in a key TRAC victory.

Girls’ Play of the Year: Faith Rousey inside the park home run

Rousey’s mad-dash after slicing a ball to left field resulted in an inside-the-park home run that would stand up in Buchanan’s 2-0 victory over Clovis for the D-1 Valley title in softball in front of 2,000 people at Margie Wright Diamond at Fresno State.

Surprise of the Year: Caleb Kelly Butkus Award winner

Capping off a tremendous football career at Clovis West, Caleb Kelly was rewarded with the highest honor for a high school linebacker – the 2015 Dick Butkus Award – in a surprise ceremony held at lunchtime at his beloved school. Called to what he thought was a team meeting, Matt Butkus, the son of the Hall of Famer, emerged from behind a curtain holding the trophy to an emotional Kelly, the future Oklahoma Sooner.

The most bizarre game: Clovis vs Central football

In a game that received national news and straight out of a Twilight Zone episode, a TRAC football game between Central and Clovis was postponed due to lightning and the Grizzlies leading the then-undefeated and state ranked Cougars 21-12. After resuming the next morning Clovis cut the lead to 21-20 with the ball and driving, but found themselves up against 13 Central defenders on five straight plays and 12 on the last without penalty. A potential game-winning field goal was missed, ending one of the most bizarre games in Central Section history.

Friendship lasts forever:

The greatest aspect of high school sports is the brotherhood and sisterhood forged between teammates, one that lasts forever. Friends since 8th grade, Clovis wide receiver tandem of J.J. Wills and Coltin Velasquez each went over the 1,000-yard mark and they also started for two years together on the basketball team.

Buchanan and Clovis North throwers Jacob Wilson and McKay Johnson, despite going to different schools, were workout partners and fellow state medal winners. And what did they do after their fierce competition at the Central Section Masters? Well, they watched Captain America 2: Civil War together.

What could be closer than true brothers? Well, the Nevills family is already etched in California wrestling lore and the two youngest of four brothers, senior A.J. (195) and sophomore Seth (285), each won a state individual title this year, joining older brothers Zach (2-time state champ) and Nick (3-time state champ). Makes you wonder what Thanksgiving dinner looks like at the Nevills’ house.

Clovis West sisters Sarah (senior, headed to UCSB for polo) and Caitlyn (sophomore) Snyder have been in the pool almost since birth, and both are standout water polo players and swimmers for the two years they attended high school together. After winning a polo Valley title in 2015 they placed second this year to Clovis and were part of four TRAC and Valley titles in the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. And there’s another Snyder coming up – Julianne is about to enter Kastner Intermediate School as a 7th grader.

The Buchanan pitching duo Grant Gambrell and Hunter Reinke were not only partners on the diamond but fishing buddies off. They often retreated for some rest and relaxation on the weekends after throwing fastballs during the week in leading the team to a national title.

What else we loved about the TRAC this year:

  • Clovis West’s girls swimming and diving team winning their 20th straight Valley title.
  • Clovis East’s Christina Tran setting to dynamic hitter Thaliana Grajeda en route to the Valley volleyball title.
  • Buchanan’s Hannah Waller blazin’ and breakin’ track’s Central Section records in the 200 and 400, placing third and second respectively at the CIF State Track and Field Championships.
  • Clovis’ Cassidy Crouch turning away shot after shot in goal against Clovis West in Valley water polo win.
  • Clovis North’s Lauren Moffett capping a storied running career with by medaling in 1600 at the CIF State Track and Field Championships.
  • Clovis West’s Caleb Kelly football dominance on both sides of the ball, handling great pressure during the season as a top national college recruit.
  • Clovis East’s Trey Semien dunkin’, throwin’ and jukin’ on the football field and basketball court.
  • Buchanan’s Grant Gambrell’s pitching masterpiece in Valley title game.
  • Clovis’ Sean Kuenzinger’s school record six passing touchdowns against Clovis North.
  • Clovis North’s Daly Meinert and his teammates celebrating the school’s first team tennis title on the courts at Copper River Country Club.

What to look for in 2016-17:

It’s never too early to look forward to the 2016-17 season so here’s something to keep an eye out for:

  • Clovis soon-to-be junior Seth Nevills (90-0) is seeking to become a three-time state wrestling champ and soon-to-be senior Justin Mejia looks to join elite company with his fourth straight title.
  • Clovis West two-sport star Adrian Martinez, just a junior next year, is already a four-star recruit as a quarterback and has been shown interest from the PAC-12, namely Oregon and Stanford.
  • The Clovis West girls’ basketball team returns all four starters from the state’s No. 6 team and added another top-notch player in Tess Amundsen (niece of Clovis North boys’ coach Tony Amundsen and daughter of former Clovis East boys’ coach Tim) as it seeks their fifth straight Valley title and a deep run in the state playoffs.
  • The Clovis North baseball team, led by head coach Chris Patrick, is hungry after last year and is loaded with underclassmen and tons of talent at the lower levels.
  • TRAC softball is brimming with young talent as well with Clovis East freshman Olivia Shimmin, Taja Felder and sophomore Mya Felder. In addition, Buchanan pitcher Molly Millar and Clovis pitcher Danielle Lung are both sophomores.
  • TRAC girls’ swimming with Clovis freshman Averee Preble, Clovis West sophomore Caitlyn Snyder and Buchanan junior Stephanie Bartel already have state-level swimming experience with years to go. By Paul Meadors, Clovis Roundup.