When Ben Wright took over as Edison High School’s boys water polo coach six years ago, he recognized the untapped potential in a group of then-seventh graders.
So Wright began aiming big for a program that had no official feeder system, an outdated pool and little history of success prior to his hiring.
Fast forward to the present, where Edison’s core group of seniors – Anthony Perez, Gavin Sanders, Nikolai Kapetan, Robert Nunes and Micah Lawrence – have played in the same feeder program (West Fresno water polo club) since the seventh grade, christened the school’s brand new aquatics complex last season with the program’s first league title and this year have led the Tigers into a second straight Central Section final.
Fourth-seeded Edison (24-6) will meet No. 2 Hanford West (24-5) at 3 p.m. Saturday at Lemoore High for the Division III championship, one of a combined six boys and girls divisional finals around the section.
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“All of us have put in a ton of time and effort, knowing the talent we had early on in the seventh grade that we’d have the opportunity and players to get us where we are these last couple of years,” said Wright, whose team the past two seasons is 51-10 overall with consecutive County/Metro Athletic Conference titles. “They put in the work. They understood it. They bought into everything we talked about. Everything has just come together almost perfectly.”
They put in the work. They understood it. They bought into everything we talked about. Everything has just come together almost perfectly.
Edison coach Ben Wright
Almost perfectly being the key phrase here.
Edison was denied – routed, actually – last year it its first attempt at capturing a section boys water polo title, losing 26-10 against Garces in the D-III final for an anticlimactic ending to the program’s best season at 27-4. The then second-seeded Tigers rolled into that final against the top-seeded Rams in Bakersfield riding a 10-game winning streak but were outscored 6-1 in the first quarter and never recovered.
“They destroyed us, and our guys held on to that,” Wright said.
Edison made it much more competitive during its first meeting with Garces this season, losing 10-7 on Oct. 7 at the Arroyo Grande Tournament.
Then, in the section semifinals Wednesday, the Tigers overcame a two-goal deficit against the Rams in the fourth quarter and got a go-ahead goal from Sanders with 21 seconds left for a 7-6 victory.
“We had some things we felt we could take advantage of and try to slow down the game a little,” Wright said. “They are a really aggressive, hard-pressing team. We’d been saying if we could be within two goals (going into the last quarter), I felt good about our chances. And sure enough, the guys pulled through.”
Edison will get a chance to avenge another one of its losses this season in the final against Hanford West. The Huskies edged the Tigers 10-9 in sudden-death overtime at the Sunnyside Tournament on Sept. 16.
Hanford West’s Dustin Silva scored three of his team-leading 94 goals against Edison in the first meeting. The Huskies are also led by goalkeeper and West Yosemite League MVP Jonah Addington.
“They’ve got a couple really good players who hurt us last time we played them,” Wright said. “We have some things we can attempt to do to slow them down. It’s going to be a tough task. But at the same time, we have a couple of good players they are going to have a tough time with. It’s going to be close.”
Central Section water polo championships
Central Section boys and girls water polo finals Saturday at host school sites. Championship history provided by historian Bob Barnett.
Matchup: No. 2 Clovis (19-12) vs. No. 1 Buchanan (24-5)
Time: 10 a.m.
Section titles: Clovis (6) 1973, ’77, 2001, ’07, ’08, ’14; Buchanan (7) 1996, ’99, 2003, ’06, ’09, ’12, ’13
Playoff run: Clovis d. No. 7 Clovis East 10-2; d. No. 3 Clovis North 11-6. Buchanan d. No. 8 Memorial 18-3; d. No. 4 Golden West 21-5.
Previous meetings: Buchanan won 9-5 on Sept. 28; Buchanan won 13-4 on Oct. 20.
The skinny: The Cougars and Bears meet in the final for the fifth time in the past 10 years. Clovis, runner-up to Golden West last season, is powered by senior PJ McDonough (123 goals). Buchanan has the stingiest defense among all D-I teams (5.2 goals-against per game) behind senior goalkeeper Kyle McKenney (306 saves, 50 steals).
Matchup: No. 2 Redwood (17-9) vs. No. 1 Porterville (29-1)
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Granite Hills-Porterville
Section titles: Redwood (7) 1965, ’66, ’69, ’76, ’79, ’87, 2015 (D-II); Porterville (2) 1963, 2013 (D-III).
Playoff run: Redwood d. No. 7 Central 10-8; d. No. 3 Lemoore 7-5. Porterville d. No. 8 Sunnyside 23-6; d. No. 4 El Diamante 15-8.
Previous meeting: Porterville won 15-8 on Aug. 29.
The skinny: Rematch of last season’s final, which the Rangers won 10-8. Redwood has won six straight games, with goalkeeper Josh Ramage making 34 saves in the playoffs so far. The Panthers feature one of the section’s most dominant players in Steven Chapman, an ambidextrous shooter who’s scored 13 goals in two playoff games.
Matchup: No. 4 Edison (24-6) vs. No. 2 Hanford West (24-5)
Time: 3 p.m.
Site: Lemoore High
Section titles: Edison none. Hanford West (2) 2008 (D-III), ’09 (D-III).
Playoff run: Edison d. No. 5 Exeter 20-4; d. No. 1 Garces 7-6. Hanford West d. No. 7 Sierra 14-4; d. No. 3 Strathmore 7-5.
Previous meeting: Hanford West won 10-9 in OT on Sept. 16.
The skinny: The Tigers, who lost to Garces 26-10 for last season’s title, return to the final with an offense led by three players – Nikolai Kapetan, Gavin Sanders and Robert Nunes – each averaging more than two goals a game. The Huskies are paced by goalkeeper Jonah Addington (13 saves per game) and Dustin Silva (3.3 goals per game).
Matchup: No. 2 Clovis West (20-10) vs. No. 1 Clovis (23-8)
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Clovis High
Section titles: Clovis West (12) 1997, ’98, ’99, 2000, ’01, ’02, ’03, ’04, ’08, ’09, ’12, ’14. Clovis (4) 2010, ’11, ’13, ’15.
Playoff run: Clovis West d. No. 7 Bullard 16-6; d. No. 5 Sanger 10-3. Clovis d. No. 9 Clovis East 12-2; d. No. 4 Clovis North 8-7.
Previous meetings: Clovis won 10-5 on Sept. 3; Clovis West won 8-7 in OT on Oct. 11; Clovis won 8-4 on Nov. 2.
The skinny: The two teams clash in the final for the eighth straight season, with Clovis winning last year 5-3. Matchup features five college-bound players in Hannah Gish (Cal State Bakersfield) and Callie Woodruff (Fresno State) of Clovis and Ally Clague (UC Davis), Hannah Duggins (Fresno State) and Maddie Loggins (Fresno State) of Clovis West. The Golden Eagles are in the section final for the 20th consecutive season.
Matchup: No. 3 Redwood (21-8) vs. No. 1 El Diamante (27-3)
Time: 10 a.m.
Site: El Diamante High.
Section titles: Redwood (2) 2008 (D-III), ’09 (D-III). El Diamante (3) 2007 (D-II), ’08 (D-II), ’09 (D-II).
Playoff run: Redwood d. No. 6 Edison 7-3; d. No. 2 Hanford 6-4. El Diamante d. No. 9 Tulare 14-5; d. No. 5 Golden West 10-7.
Previous meetings: El Diamante won 10-1 on Aug. 27; Redwood won 9-8 in 3OT on Sept. 21; El Diamante won 6-3 on Oct. 18.
The skinny: Freshman Skylar Ford (64 goals, 15 assists, 32 steals) has been the catalyst for the Rangers, who have also received 40 goals apiece from Alyssa Ibarra and Alyssa Harrington. The Miners, who beat defending D-II champion Golden West in the semifinals, have been led by Makenzie Huskey, who averages more than three goals per game.
Matchup: No. 2 Reedley (24-4) vs. No. 1 Mt. Whitney (13-14)
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Golden West High-Visalia.
Section titles: Reedley none. Mt. Whitney (1) 2011 (D-III).
Playoff run: Reedley d. No. 7 Sierra Pacific 14-3; d. No. 6 Kingsburg 12-3. Mt. Whitney d. No. 8 Mission Oak 13-9; d. No. 4 Selma 9-4.
Previous meetings: Mt. Whitney won 3-0 on Oct. 10; Mt. Whitney won 9-5 on Oct. 28.
The skinny: The Pirates are powered by Emily Milton, who has scored 13 of her 121 goals on the seasons in the playoffs. But Melton has been held to one goal in two previous meetings against the Pioneers. Mt. Whitney is led by Lilian Dinis, who has scored seven of her team-leading 68 goals in the postseason.