Best of 2023 Central Valley Sports

Basketball Edition

We focus on basketball in the first segment, which included some incredible individual performances, like Jemarl Baker’s ten 3-pointers and career-high 43 points for the Bulldogs last March against Chicago State, which tied a Save Mart Center arena record.

Or just recently at a holiday tournament in December, when Sierra High’s Logan Kilbert scored 71 points in a tournament, a school and Central Section record.

And how about that special night in February, when Yvette Roberts saw her number 24 retired by the Fresno state women’s basketball program.

And team-wise, there were three championship moments that stood out above the rest.

The San Joaquin Memorial boys, and the Central girls, making a little first-time school history, as both won Division II state titles.

And even though they got knocked out in the state’s Open Division, the Clovis West girls kept the dynasty rolling, capturing their 11th straight Central Section championship.

Basketball Honorable Mention

The Clovis High girls basketball team beating Clovis West during the regular season and snapping the Golden Eagles 33-game winning streak.

-The Sierra High School boys making a run all the way to the championship game of the Division V state tournament before losing to Lynwood.

-Former Clovis West star Cole Anderson helps UC Santa Barbara win the Big West Tournament championship, and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Football Edition

We turn our attention to football next, which included some incredible individual performances as well, like running backs Bryson Donelson of Central Valley Christian and Hunter Babb of Caruthers finishing ranked first and second in the entire state of California, in both rushing yards and total touchdowns.

Or how about Fresno state running back Malik Sherrod’s night against Boise in early November – 255 all-purpose yards, a spectacular kick return touchdown on the final play of the first half, and a game-sealing rushing touchdown late in the fourth quarter – as the Bulldogs got the Milk Can back for the first time since 2017.

That was certainly one of the high points this season for the Bulldogs, and so was the dominating New Mexico bowl win under acting head coach Tim Skipper.

And in the high school ranks, Clovis North won their first 13 games on their way to a Division I Central Section title, while both Strathmore and CVC captured state titles.

The Spartans doing it after their head coach had a life-threatening health scare over the summer, and the Cavaliers making a little city history with their state title, as they became the first-ever high school football state champion from the city of Visalia.

Football Honorable Mention

-Former Fresno State defensive back and current Dallas Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland breaks the NFL single-season record with his fifth pick-six of the season on Thanksgiving day.

-Fresno State senior linebacker Levelle Bailey seals three different games with defensive plays – a late deflection in the final minute at Purdue, an overtime interception against Eastern Washington, and an interception in the final seconds against UNLV.

-Fresno State defensive back Carlton Johnson intercepts three passes in the Bulldogs’ shutout win at Arizona State.

-Former Fresno State head football coaches Jim Sweeney and Pat Hill go into the program’s newly created Ring of Honor in separate halftime ceremonies during the regular season.

-Fresno Christian finishes off a third straight undefeated season with another 8-man football Central Section championship.

-Former San Joaquin Memorial and Central High receivers Jalen McMillan and Xavier Worthy help lead Washington and Texas respectively, into spots in the College Football Playoff.

Best of the Rest

Of course, there were other non-basketball and football Central Valley sports moments from 2023 that also stood out above the rest.

In the high school ranks, the Clovis North boys soccer team popped into the national rankings during the winter season, on their way to an undefeated Division I Central Section title.

The Clovis North girls made it a Broncos Section championship double, as they captured their third Division I Central Section title in the last four years.

And speaking of Central Section championship doubles, the McLane boys and girls soccer teams did it as well, which got them parades on campus.

In wrestling, the Buchanan boys captured an astounding seventh consecutive state title, despite not having an individual champion, while there were four girls from our area who did come out on top, including Redwood’s Jenna Creason – the first Tulare County girl to ever win a state title – and Clovis freshman Leilani Lemus, who combined with her older brother Dario to become the first Cougar siblings to win state titles at the same meet.

A little over three months later, Clovis High senior Sydnie Vanek and Caruthers senior Nailea Fields pulled off an impressive feat, repeating as state champions in track and field, in the girls long jump and discus respectively.

They both moved on to big programs at the next level, and speaking of college stars from the Valley, last January, former Buchanan star-turned Georgia running back Kendall Milton scored a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ dominating national championship-win over TCU.

And his Georgia classmate, San Joaquin Memorial alum Ethan Quinn, won an NCAA singles tennis championship as a freshman, then turned professional, and made his main draw debut in singles at the U.S. Open three months later.

Fellow SEC standout Riley Cooper – by way of Kingsburg and Clovis North high schools – played an important bullpen role in LSU winning the College World Series.

Even though they didn’t win national titles like those three individuals, there were a couple Fresno State teams who played for a national championship, as the Bulldog women’s water polo team made a third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, and the Bulldog women’s volleyball team went from one win a year ago to the NCAA’s this year.

And mid-November provided a very special weekend at Fresno State, as Mike Batesole and Aaron Judge had their numbers retired by the Bulldog baseball program.

Best of the Rest Honorable Mention

-Clovis East graduate Bryson DeChambeau becomes the fourth-ever player on a top level tour to shoot 58 in competition, when he posts the number, on his way to winning, in the final round of a LIV golf event in August.

-Former Bulldog Aaron Judge becomes the first New York Yankees player to hit three home runs in a game twice in one season.

-Fowler High School alum Jocelynn Budwig wins the Mountain West title in the Hammer Throw.

-Caruthers multi-sport star Morgan Trigueiro is named Cal-Hi Sports’ Division 3 State Athlete of the Year, the first girl from Caruthers to ever get that honor.

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