CIF State Basketball Championships Make Triumphant Return After Two-Year Absence – Press Enterprise

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SACRAMENTO — They recalled the weekly COVID-19 tests, the missed opportunities in a “changing world,” and the constant adversity. But for the first time since 2019, players and coaches from some of California’s top boys’ and girls’ basketball teams spoke with excitement and gratitude at the CIF State Championships.

Players stormed the NBA-sized area at the Golden 1 Center to celebrate. They hoisted trophies, danced around and even sang in post-game interviews.

The state championships made a triumphant return on Friday after being canceled for the past two years due to the pandemic.

“It’s huge,” said Damien senior forward Kaleb Smith after the Spartans’ 65-57 win over Clovis North in the Division I Finals. “All of us here have worked hard our entire lives for this moment. As a kid you think about it, ‘States, I’m going out there and I’m going to win.’

“I love every single one of (my teammates) so to be able to share that with them for a lifetime and remember that forever… is amazing.”

Spivey Word #2 of Damien celebrates with teammates after defeating Clovis North 65-57 to win the CIF State Division I boys’ basketball championship game on Friday, March 11, 2022 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star News/ SCNG)

The coaches recalled some of the challenges of the journey.

Oakland Tech girls’ coach Leroy Hurt celebrated a Division III title with his squad while also recalling the COVID-19 testing his public school team had completed.

“I don’t think there’s another team out there that’s been through what we’ve been through,” he said. “COVID testing daily. COVID tests twice a week. This kid is out, this kid is out A lot has happened this year so to get through this year and win it all… is very satisfying for me and I know it’s satisfying for the kids too.”

Gratitude actually won the day.

Players also soaked up the competition at the 17,000-seat home of the Sacramento Kings. A giant scoreboard above the ground tracked their every move.

But they weren’t the only ones returning on Friday. The arena was filled with the sounds of cheering groups of students, Damien’s pep band and cheerleaders from several schools.

La Salle fans react during the first half of a CIF State Division III girls basketball championship game between La Salle and Oakland Tech at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento on Friday, March 11, 2022. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

CIF State Executive Director Ron Nocetti watched all the action but also listened carefully to what the players had to say in the interview room afterwards.

“For the most part, they talk more than anything about their friendships, working together as a team and the bonds they’ve built with their coaches, and that’s what it’s about,” he said. “To hear that again from our student-athletes, there’s nothing like that.

“They appreciate what was missing. The kids always get it right.”


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