Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

There’s no question that the 2021-22 Calaveras High School boys’ basketball senior night celebration will be the fastest in the coaching career of Kraig Clifton. That’s because there is not one senior on Calaveras’ roster.

Calaveras is a team that is made up entirely of junior players. While it is nearly unheard of to have a squad with no seniors on it, Clifton isn’t letting that change the way he coaches and the way he prepares his team.

“I’m just treating it like we would if we had one,” Clifton said. “It doesn’t really change anything we do or how we approach things, but it is strange. The numbers aren’t as high as we would like and it is what it is and we are going with it.”

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

The good thing for Clifton is that the offseason wasn’t as long as it typically is. Calaveras played its final game May 29 and turned around and began its summer league. The biggest issue Clifton had over the offseason was thinking about what could have been with the team he coached during the spring. His roster had a number of skilled senior players, along with youthful excitement. Had the season not been altered due to COVID-19, Clifton feels that team could have made some noise down the stretch.

“I really felt that we had a legitimate shot of winning the whole thing and that bothered me,” Clifton said. “You don’t get that opportunity very often and that team was really going places. Out of all of my teams, that team was advancing faster than any other. That was a bummer and I don’t know if I completely got over that. But at the same time, we got into summer league and battled and that part of it felt the same, other than the timing being really close to each other.”

While Calaveras’ roster doesn’t have a “Sr.” next to any name, that doesn’t mean there are no players with varsity experience. Because of the shortened COVID-19 2021 spring season, there was no JV or freshman team. With only a varsity squad, Clifton had a number of players who might not necessarily have been varsity ready, who got varsity experience.

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

Of those younger players to earn some floor time during the spring, Jay Clifton was one who already had a starting role solidified. As a freshman, Jay Clifton was on the varsity team all year and then showed improvements during his short sophomore season. With no seniors on the team, Jay Clifton has no problem stepping into that spot, as the one with the most varsity experience.

“Nobody else on this team has played three years on the varsity level,” said Jay Clifton, who averaged 19.3 points per game during the spring season. “I’ve been to the state playoffs and even with the Covid year, I got to see guys above me and what they did with leadership and I’m trying to mimic them and be the best leader I can be for our team.”

Although he has been on the varsity level for three years, Jay Clifton has yet to play a full varsity season. He dealt with nagging injuries throughout his freshman year and only got to play in six games as a sophomore. Jay Clifton hopes that his junior year will be one where he can stay healthy and get to experience a full season of games.

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

“I’ve been waiting for this since we lost to Pierce my freshman year,” Jay Clifton said. “Hopefully it’ll be my first full season where I’ll be able to play every game. It’s exciting and I’ve been waiting for this for a while now.”

The junior duo of Elijah Malamed and Braeden Orlandi are two players who were able to see the floor quite a bit during the short spring season and were also added to the 2019-20 playoff roster as freshmen. Malamed (6’1) averaged 8.7 points per game as a sophomore and pulled down 3.3 rebounds.

Orlandi brings a football attitude to the basketball court. While finesse may not be his style of play, Orlandi has no problem with contact when it comes to pulling down rebounds. As a sophomore, he averaged nearly five rebounds a game and used his running back speed to collect 2.3 steals.

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

The trio of Clifton, Malamed and Orlandi give Calaveras leadership, experience and skill that has been left vacant with no seniors on the team.

“Some of these guys carry themselves like seniors and are leaders,” Clifton said. “Jay is there with the experience and Braeden is a natural born leader with his work ethic. They don’t carry themselves like juniors.”

Thomas Davison, Noah Cardenas and Merrick Strange also got some playing time during the short spring season. But not everyone on Calaveras’ roster has varsity experience. New to the varsity level in 2021-22 is Tyler Maddock, Logan Parmley, Earl Wood and Mason Neelans. Even with a mixture of new and returning players, Clifton knows there’s a learning curve when it comes to figuring out how to play at the varsity level.

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

So, when would Clifton like to have his players up to speed?

“Tomorrow?” Clifton said with a chuckle. “But I know that doesn’t happen. Every team is different and when it clicks can be at any time. I’d always like it to be sooner, but at the same time, I like to peak later. We are going to find out.”

Calaveras has not won the Mother Lode League title since 2017. Since then, league bragging rights have belonged to the Sonora Wildcats. Clifton feels that it will be a difficult task to not only dethrone the Wildcats, but he knows the Mother Lode League has a few other teams who can always pose a threat. And yet, Clifton continues to eye the Mother Lode League title.

“That’s always our goal, no matter what,” Clifton said. “I know it’s going to be tough. Sonora is loaded, Bret Harte and Argonaut are good and I don’t really know about the others yet, but we’ll scout and find that out. Our goal is always to win league, but can we do it? That remains to be seen. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Calaveras begins the season with a 77-31 win over Vanguard Prep

Even with no seniors, Calaveras is ready to go

In the opening game of the season, Calaveras had no problem beating Vanguard Prep 77-31 Nov. 19 at Mike Flock Gym in San Andreas. Malamed led all scorers with 22 points; Clifton scored 19; while Strange, Cardenas and Wood all scored eight points in the lopsided victory.

“It was a good, all-around first game,” Clifton said. “I really liked how our team shared the ball. At this point, everything needs to be sharpened up, but I am pleased that there are no blaring problems.”

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