Being on the wrong end of the biggest shocker in recent Central Section boys water polo history wasn’t what Buchanan High goalkeeper Kyle McKenney had in mind for his junior season in 2015.
Especially not after helping the Bears go 13-0 against section opposition during the regular season, stomping them by a combined score of 176-60 while earning the No. 1 seed for the Division I playoffs.
But that’s exactly what happened when fourth-seeded Golden West stunned the section water polo community with a 9-7 semifinal victory in Buchanan’s pool, denying the Bears a shot at a title they appeared destined to win.
McKenney and his teammates, however, returned a pretty determined bunch in 2016.
With the 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior providing the backbone to Division I’s stingiest defense, top-seeded Buchanan rolled to the eighth section championship in school history, capping a 25-5 season with an 8-3 victory over No. 2 Clovis in the final – with McKenney earning The Bee’s Player of the Year award along the way.
From the beginning of the very first practice, we all knew what we were working for. Losing doesn’t sit well. We were motivated by that to make sure it didn’t happen again.
Buchanan goalkeeper Kyle McKenney, The Bee’s Player of the Year
“As a team, it’s all everyone wanted,” McKenney said. “From the beginning of the very first practice, we all knew what we were working for. Losing doesn’t sit well. We were motivated by that to make sure it didn’t happen again.
“The season was really fun, every day practicing with a group of my best friends. We worked hard and earned it. Our final result was what we wanted and it couldn’t have gone better.”
The Tri-River Athletic Conference MVP and All-Valley D-I co-MVP more than did his part during the title run, which saw the Bears go 14-0 against section opposition and outscore them 207-48.
McKenney made 320 saves. He blocked 72 percent of the 445 shots he faced on the season, helping the Bears allow a D-I low 153 goals. Only D-III champion Hanford West allowed fewer goals (151) around the section.
Buchanan co-coach Nic Maes said an average high school goalkeeper will block around 50 percent of the shots he faces. A great one will block above 60 percent.
“And if you go above 70 percent, you’ve got something special,” Maes said. “We played a lot of really good teams, and he performed very well consistently all through the season.
“When you have a great goalie, that allows your team to be able to compete at such a high level. ... Any mistakes you make, he’s going to take care of them.”
McKenney saved some of his best performances for Buchanan’s biggest rival, Clovis. He twice made 14 saves (tied for his second-high total of the season) against the Cougars, including in the section final.
The three goals in the final permitted by McKenney and the Bears tied for the second lowest ever allowed in a D-I championship, last accomplished when Clovis West beat Clovis 15-3 in 2002.
It was two fewer than McKenney’s season average of five goals against per game, best in the section and second in the state among teams keeping statistics on MaxPreps.
“A lot of times, high school kids get rattled by situations and Kyle did a great job of staying poised and staying in the moment,” Maes said. “He consistently did his job and was the guy we could rely on and trust back there.”
A lot of times, high school kids get rattled by situations and Kyle did a great job of staying poised and staying in the moment. He consistently did his job and was the guy we could rely on and trust back there.
Buchanan boys water polo co-coach Nick Maes
Handling pressure is nothing new to McKenney, be it in the pool or on the baseball diamond.
One of the nation’s top water polo goalkeepers, according to Maes, McKenney is being recruited by Cal Baptist, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine. In three varsity seasons, McKenney made 835 saves (an average of 9.8 per game) and allowed 6.4 goals a game while helping Buchanan go 69-21.
In addition, a seldom-used pitcher on Buchanan’s section and national championship baseball team last spring, McKenney delivered when he was called on, firing six four-hit, shutout innings in a spot start during a crucial 8-0 TRAC victory over Clovis.
“There is a lot of stress being the last line of defense, but I enjoy it,” McKenney said. “I tend to thrive under the pressure. Most people wouldn’t want to be in these circumstances, but I enjoy it and tend to play better.”
Outstanding Offensive Performer
He’s qualified because: Chapman was the driving force behind the Panthers’ charge to the Central Section Division II championship. Referred to as a “magician” by Porterville coach Mickey Goularte, Chapman overcame constant double- and triple-teams to score a section-leading 163 goals, often shooting left-handed while he recovered from surgery on his right shoulder in August. The All-Valley D-II and East Yosemite League MVP also contributed 57 steals and 40 assists to a team that went 30-1 overall. Chapman, who has committed to play college water polo at Pepperdine, scored 21 goals in the postseason, including a game-leading eight during the Panthers’ 15-3 victory over Redwood in the final.
Outstanding Defensive Performer
School: Hanford West
He’s qualified because: Addington was the backbone for a Huskies team that captured the third Central Section title in school history. Addington made a section-leading 403 saves, including 22 in second-seeded Hanford West’s 6-5 victory over No. 4 Edison in the Division III final. The All-Valley D-III and West Yosemite League MVP averaged 13.9 saves a game. Huskies coach Anthony Castellani said the 6-foot-5 Addington has great reaction time and powerful legs that keep him up in the cage. He faced 537 shots, allowing only 140 to score to help Hanford West go 25-5 overall and win a share of the WYL title. Addington is being recruited by Brown, UC Santa Barbara, UC Davis, Pacific and Cal Baptist.
Coach of the Year
He’s qualified because: Goularte directed the Panthers to their second Central Section championship in the past four seasons, and the school’s third overall, during a 30-1 season. Goularte’s team shook off its only loss of the season, an 8-7 triple-overtime setback to Garces on Oct. 31, by blasting city rival Monache 23-6 to clinch a share of the East Yosemite League title before moving on to trounce Sunnyside 23-6 in the quarterfinals, El Diamante 15-8 in the semifinals and defending champion Redwood 15-3 in the Division II final. Goularte also led Porterville to titles at the Sierra Pacific Tournament, Fresno Kick-Off Classic and Roddy Svendsen Shootout. The Panthers outscored their opponents 493-169, an average of 15.9-5.5 a game.
Boys Water Polo All-Stars
- Kaleb Archer, sophomore, Buchanan
- Evan Belli, junior, Clovis North
- Jack Benscheidt, senior, Memorial
- Elijah Breedlove, senior, Hoover
- Grant Chauncey, junior, Sierra
- Phil Dinis, senior, Mt. Whitney
- Brandon Green, junior, Golden West
- Zac Grieser, senior, Bullard
- Nikolai Kapetan, senior, Edison
- Stuart Mallam, senior, Clovis West
- PJ McDonough, senior, Clovis
- Kyle Morton, senior, Clovis
- Drew Parsley, senior, Redwood
- Robert Phillips, senior, Buchanan
- Gabe Putnam, sophomore, Buchanan
- Dustin Reinke, junior, Central
- Gavin Sanders, senior, Edison
- Satoshi Shinkawa, junior, Kingsburg
- Dustin Silva, senior, Hanford West
- Ken Suarez, senior, Sunnyside
- Ryan Trutna, senior, Clovis
- Austin Wade, senior, Madera
- Garrett Wilson, senior, Strathmore
- Steven Wilson, senior, Porterville
- Wesley Hatcher, senior, El Diamante