Golden West High coach Rick Nordell admits he would’ve happily settled for a runner-up finish.
His Trailblazers already had pulled one monumental upset to reach the Central Section Division I boys water polo championship, preventing an all-Clovis Unified final for the first time in 21 years.
But once Golden West got in the pool Saturday afternoon, the Trailblazers figured they shouldn’t settle and instead aimed for another level of success.
Senior Jack Felsted scored the deciding goal on a no-look, backhanded whip with 1:40 remaining, and the Trailblazers defense survived three shot attempts down the stretch to dethrone defending champ Clovis with a 12-11 victory at the Jim Coiner Aquatics Complex.
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“This is surreal,” said Felsted, who finished with a team-high four goals. “We’ve been training all year for this.”
23 Years since a non-Clovis Unified program captured a Central Section Division I championship, a drought that ended with Golden West prevailing Saturday
Fourth-seeded Golden West (22-8) eliminated three Clovis Unified programs – No. 5 Clovis North, top-seeded Buchanan and No. 2 Clovis – to become the first non-Clovis Unified program to capture a D-I title in 23 years.
The Trailblazers did it after petitioning to play up a level. Golden West won the D-II title last season.
Accompanied by a wave of Golden West fans at the Clovis High facility, the Trailblazers celebrated in style afterward with a group jump in the pool that included fully clothed coach Rick Nordell.
I’m in shock. Beating Clovis North, then coming back and beating Buchanan. I don’t know how we beat Buchanan. And then to beat Clovis. It’s indescribable.
Golden West boys water polo coach Rick Nordell
“I’m in shock,” said a drenched Nordell, who maintained a wide smile throughout his postgame interview. “Beating Clovis North, then coming back and beating Buchanan. I don’t know how we beat Buchanan. And then to beat Clovis. It’s indescribable.”
The Cougars (20-8) watched on from across the pool, perhaps trying to recount how they lost to a team they defeated 18-6 just two months ago.
Clovis appeared to have withstood the Trailblazers’ early charge, tying it at the end of the third quarter on goalie Austin Bardon’s length-of-the-pool buzzer-beater that caused both sides of the complex to erupt.
The Cougars even took an 11-10 lead on Zach Koch’s penalty shot goal with 5:19 remaining.
“Early on, we didn’t like the pace,” Clovis coach Matt Berry said. “But the pace eventually started to suit us. But they made the big plays and we didn’t.”
The Trailblazers showed much had changed since their first meeting with the Cougars, from additional personnel to an unfazed mentality.
Jack Felsted provides deciding score and led Golden West with four goals. The Trailblazers moved to 17-4 since Felsted became eligible Oct. 5 following a transfer from Mt. Whitney
Most notable was Felsted’s return Oct. 5 after sitting out the first part of the season after transferring from Mt. Whitney. Golden West finished 17-4 with Felsted.
Upon tying it at 11-11 on freshman Brad Dennis’ shot from roughly 10 feet, the Trailblazers ran another play with Jens Niederreiter making an entry pass to Felsted, who was positioned about five feet and slightly to the right of the goal.
Without looking – and certainly without hesitating – Felsted quickly torqued his body to the right while palming the ball, then blindly fired off a quick, low-angle shot for a goal.
Clovis’ final attempts saw two shots hit the bar and the final shot get deflected.
Division II – After finishing as the runner-up each of the past two years, Redwood finally won a section title.
Houston King scored three goals and Josh Ramage made 13 saves as top-seeded Redwood (19-7) defeated No. 3 Porterville 10-8 for the Rangers’ first championship since 1987, according to section historian Bob Barnett.
Porterville (22-6), which won the D-III title in 2013, received three goals from Steven Chapman.
Division III – Top-seeded Garces re-emerged as champion after rolling past No. 3 Edison 26-10.
The Rams won their third title in four years, the others coming in 2012 and 2013.
Edison’s Logan Melton had five goals as the Tigers (27-4) concluded their best season ever, winning their first league title while going 10-0 in the County/Metro Athletic Conference.