Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Richie in the Fresno Bee!

Clovis High football's Sept. already best in years

Published online on Monday, Sep. 14, 2009

The post-game celebration suggested Clovis High had won another Central Section title in football, something the Cougars have accomplished at least once in each of the past four decades.

Yet it followed a 14-7 nonleague win at Atascadero on Friday in the team's second game of the season.

"I had to calm them down a bunch," first-year Clovis coach Rich Hammond said. "The biggest thing for us: It can't be the pinnacle of the season, just another win in the course of the season."

Still, the Cougars could be excused for being a bit giddy.

The victory was their first in September after 10 consecutive losses in the month since the 2006 season.

And it also came after an 0-1 start this year and a 2-19 overall record the previous two seasons.

"Everybody's extremely excited," Hammond said of a win that carried extra value, in that Southern Section Division II power Atascadero had opened with a 33-21 win at the section's then-No. 8 Clovis East two weeks ago.

While Clovis has returned to what was once commonplace -- The Bee's Top 20, at No. 16 -- the challenge of sustaining that success will be daunting while opposing No. 2 Bullard on Friday night at Chukchansi Park.

Regardless, the future has brightened considerably for the Cougars, who had three sophomore linebackers -- Ryan Davies, Zack Nevills and Nate Palomino -- come of age at Atascadero, which was stuffed on three fourth-down attempts.

They were complemented on defense by senior lineman Joe Gustafson and junior safety Gil Ornelas.

The offense was guided by senior quarterback Trey Mitchell, who completed 22 of 33 passes for 268 yards, without an interception, while also rushing for both touchdowns.

"We were fortunate -- we got some breaks," said Hammond, referring to six Atascadero fumbles, four of which were recovered by the Cougars. "But we held them to 180 yards. And we had seven plays over 20 yards, which was huge, changing field position. This was definitely a confidence builder."

Quite a mission for Gambini

Mark Gambini walked away from the Central Valley Christian football program after coaching it to a third straight section Division V championship in 2005.

But he's finding life a little more challenging in his second stint as a head coach at Tulare's newest high school -- Mission Oak. The Hawks, in their first varsity season, are 0-2 after losing to Lindsay (66-0) and Hanford West (58-0).

"The kids are resilient; they bounce back," Gambini said. "We try to keep practices light and fun. Everyone knows the situation we're in."

Mission Oak won't have a senior class until next year, and the Hawks' 24-man roster features only 14 juniors. Six of the juniors didn't suit up Friday against Hanford West either because of injury or eligibility, Gambini said, forcing several sophomores to play both ways.

Mission Oak will have to grow up in a hurry. With the addition of their first seniors, the Hawks move into the East Yosemite League next season, alongside established city schools Tulare and Tulare Western. Mission Oak -- like fellow first-year programs Kennedy-Delano, Mira Monte-Bakersfield and Independence-Bakersfield -- is playing as an independent this season.

Mission Oak's junior varsity and freshman teams are off to strong starts this year, and Gambini expects to have a roster of 40 to 45 players next season, full of experienced juniors.

"We'd like to say the future is bright," Gambini said. "If we continue to build the right way and lay the foundation, I think we will be good in a few years."

Gambini went 51-10 during his five seasons at CVC before spending two seasons as an assistant on the varsity staff at El Diamante. He then jumped at the chance to launch the Mission Oak program, starting by coaching the Hawks junior varsity last season.

"It's been a lot of work, probably a little more than I expected," Gambini said. "But I'm enjoying it because you're building it from the ground up."

Dinuba officials probing locker room theft

Dinuba administrators are reviewing three hours of surveillance video shot outside its girls locker room, searching for clues pertaining to an alleged theft of personal items belonging to members of the Washington football team.

The alleged theft occurred after halftime of the Panthers' 21-20 loss to Dinuba on Friday.

Dinuba athletic director Martin Tovar said any findings on the surveillance tape would be turned over to the police.

"We pride ourselves on being good hosts," Tovar said. "We're very upset about this and we're looking into procedures to make sure nothing ever happens like this again."

Washington athletic director Jeff Cardoza said he would file a report with the Dinuba Police Department after talking to his school's players.

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