Jack Felsted made a believer out of Golden West High boys water polo coach Rick Nordell.
First in Felsted’s ability to fit into an experienced and talented Trailblazers team following his transfer from Visalia rival Mt. Whitney, where he had scored 99 goals as the Pioneers’ go-to player during his junior season.
And eventually in his signature shot, the normally low-percentage backhand.
“I know (Nordell) was skeptical at first, but he gave me the opportunity and told me I made the most of it,” said Felsted, The Bee’s Player of the Year. “I just wanted to show him he wasn’t wasting his time in giving me a chance. The team really welcomed me. It was a great way to end my high school career.”
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Felsted worked to earn Nordell’s trust and developed into Golden West’s leading scorer, the last of his 91 goals coming off a lightning-quick, no-look, backhanded shot that lifted the Trailblazers to a 12-11 victory over defending Division I champion Clovis that sent shock waves across the Central Section water polo scene.
91 Goals scored on the season by Golden West’s Jack Felsted, who added four in the Trailblazers’ 12-11 win over Clovis for the Central Section Division I boys water polo championship
Golden West became the first non-Clovis Unified school to capture the section’s top boys water polo playoff division in 23 years (Hoover, 1992), after becoming the first team outside of Clovis to reach the final in 21 seasons (Hanford, 1994).
“He was a very coachable kid, he really bought in,” Nordell said. “He molded his style into our game, and I kind of molded our game to his style some. We both came a little ways, and that’s what made us successful.”
Nordell also relented on his disdain of the backhanded shot, allowing Felsted the freedom to use it whenever he saw an opening, even in the biggest moment of the Trailblazers’ season – with 1:40 left in the D-I final and the score tied 11-11. Felsted was positioned outside the post, saw the goalie was on the other side of the cage and slung a low liner that found the open corner.
“I went from not a fan of the backhand to a big fan of Jack’s,” Nordell said. “He not only does it well, but so fast. Lightning fast. That’s what makes it a difference maker.”
That Felsted ended up at Golden West – which captured the school’s first section boys water polo title, in D-II, the previous season – happened by luck of enrollment.
Saying he was looking for a new scene after admittedly getting into some trouble at Mt. Whitney, Felsted applied for an intradistrict transfer. He wound up at Golden West because Visalia’s other two public high schools, El Diamante and Redwood, were impacted.
Section transfer rules kept Felsted out of the Trailblazers’ first nine games as they went 5-4.
Once Felsted gained his eligibility and melded into a lineup that featured four returning starters from the D-II title-winning team in Brad Dennis, Sawyer Nordell, Hayden Niederreiter and Jeffrey Wheeler, Golden West closed the season on a 17-4 run that included an 8-7 defeat of Clovis North in the D-I quarterfinals and a 9-7 come-from-behind win over top-seeded Buchanan in the semifinals.
“We had a fairly strong team prior to Jack coming over, and that’s why we decided to move up to Division I,” Nordell said. “But adding Jack to the mix made for a whole lot of scoring power. Other teams had to put so much defensive effort on Jack that he opened up our team scoring potential. That made a big difference. That was the thing that helped us get over the hump.”
Felsted scored a team-leading four goals in the final against Clovis, helping Golden West become the first Visalia school since Mt. Whitney in 1989 to win boys water polo’s top divisional title.
Everyone around here is going to remember that and be talking about how we were one of the best teams to come from Visalia in awhile.
Jack Felsted on helping Golden West become the first non-Clovis Unified school in 23 years to win the Central Section Division I boys water polo title
“Everyone around here is going to remember that and be talking about how we were one of the best teams to come from Visalia in awhile,” said Felsted, who plans to try out for Canada’s Under 20 national team thanks to his mother Michelle’s Canadian heritage. “Our goal was to get to the final, and we re-adjusted our goal once we got there. I think we were ready. All of our seniors weren’t fazed by the stage it was on. It was the biggest game any of us had ever played in.”
Felsted left an impressive on Clovis co-coach Matt Berry, whose team beat Golden West 18-6 on Sept. 19 without the player who went on to earn West Yosemite League MVP honors.
“He did a lot of hard work down low. He was definitely the difference-maker on that team,” Berry said. “In the championship game, he was the best player in the pool.”
Boys Water Polo All-Stars: Outstanding Offensive Performer Zach Koch
- School: Clovis
- He’s qualified because: As the only returning starter for the defending Central Section Division I champions, Koch helped the Cougars reach the final for a fourth straight season by scoring 99 of their 379 goals on 51 percent shooting accuracy. “A lot of that was because Zach demonstrated leadership, and let them know to expect and believe that we can come out and do this,” Clovis co-coach Matt Berry said. “He grabbed the bull by the horns and took control of the team in multiple aspects, and it really helped us a lot this year.” Koch, a third-year varsity starter, also contributed 33 assists as the Cougars went 20-8 and finished as the D-I runner-up. He was named MVP of the Tri-River Athletic Conference off its second-place team. Koch is leaning toward accepting a scholarship offer to play water polo and swim at Cal Baptist.
- Career achievement: Koch was brought up to the varsity toward the end of his freshman season, scoring the first of his 207 career goals. He contributed 75 assists in his three-plus seasons. Koch also has been an exceptional swimmer for Clovis, helping the Cougars capture the 200 free relay titles at the Central Section Division I finals and at the first CIF State Championships.
- All the tools: Offensively, Koch is a dangerous scorer from the perimeter who shoots with above average velocity and accuracy. But he’s also adept at posting up and is speedy enough to drive past a defender to find an open space to shoot. And defensively, he was often assigned to guard the other team’s best player. “There’s not a part of his game that was weak or that we had to worry about,” Berry said. “He’s pretty good at everything.”
- He said it: “I’ve coached some very good players, but I think he is by far the best player I’ve coached at the high school level. I’ve had players defensively as good as Zach, and offensively as good as Zach, but never both at the same time. That’s what makes him so unique.” – Clovis co-coach Matt Berry.
Boys Water Polo All-Stars: Coach of the Year Rick Nordell
- School: Golden West
- He’s qualified because: One season after capturing the school’s first Central Section boys water polo title in Division II, Nordell’s Trailblazers became the first team in 23 years outside of Clovis Unified to win the section’s top playoff division. And fourth-seeded Golden West went through three Clovis Unified programs to do it, beating No. 5 Clovis North 8-7 in the quarterfinals before upsetting top-seeded Buchanan 9-7 in the semifinals and overcoming defending champion and second-seeded Clovis 12-11 in the D-I final. The last non-Clovis Unified school to reach a D-I final was Hanford in 1994, and the last to win was Hoover in 1992. A Visalia school hadn’t captured gold in the section’s premier playoff division since Mt. Whitney in 1989. The Trailblazers finished 22-8 overall and shared the West Yosemite League title with Redwood.
- A little prodding: Seeking a new challenge after winning the D-II title in 2014, a couple of Nordell’s players – including his son, Sawyer – asked the 22-year coach to move the Trailblazers into D-I. Golden West hadn’t competed in the section’s top playoff division since 2007, but with four starters back Nordell felt this was the school’s best chance to compete for the D-I title since consecutive one-goal losses to Clovis in the semifinals in 2002 and 2003. “I didn’t know if we’d ever get that close again,” Nordell said. “The amazing thing to me is we talked about it from the beginning. It had been 21 years since a non-Clovis team was in the finals. Could this be the year we do it? We were just dreaming and setting goals. To actually set those goals and then work hard and go out and accomplish them was beyond what we expected. It was a dream come true. And to have my son on the team was icing on the cake.”
- He said it: “Their mentality is what stood out for me. Anything negative that happened rolled off their backs, and they were always excited and able to rise. That seems to be a top-down thing from their coach. He’s one of the nicest guys around and a great coach.” – Buchanan co-coach Nic Maes.
The Fresno Bee Boys Water Polo All-Stars
- Jonah Addington, junior, Hanford West
- Kaleb Archer, freshman, Buchanan
- Ethan Barnhart, senior, Lemoore
- Callen Bruening, senior, El Diamante
- Brad Dennis, senior, Golden West
- Steven Chapman, junior, Porterville
- Jacob Fairchild, senior, Clovis North
- Ronan Feigel, junior, Sanger
- Cole Heimerdinger, senior, Buchanan
- Henry Hong, senior, Clovis West
- Bryce Hurick, senior, Exeter
- Houstin King, senior, Redwood
- Preston Mayer, senior, Clovis West
- Kyle McKenney, junior, Buchanan
- Logan Melton, senior, Edison
- Logan Mena, senior, Mt. Whitney
- Hayden Niederreiter, senior, Golden West
- Sawyer Nordell, senior, Golden West
- Grant Quiring, senior, Bullard
- Josh Ramage, senior, Redwood
- Jacob Rolih, senior, Clovis
- Jesse Serpa, senior, Clovis
- Bane Stanicic, junior, Edison
- John Taylor, senior, Fresno
- Thomas Vandiver, senior, Buchanan
- Garrett Wilson, junior, Strathmore