A year ago, Edison High’s boys water polo team didn’t have a home pool to practice in while producing a fourth straight sub-.500 season.
Saturday, the Tigers’ boys water polo team will play in a Central Section championship for the first time in school history.
And not even a brief stoppage of second-seeded Edison’s 13-8 Division III semifinal victory over No. 3 Exeter on Wednesday because of a nearby shooting could slow the momentum the Tigers have rolling as Niko Kapetan’s four goals helped extend the program’s best-ever season.
Edison (27-3) will travel to Bakersfield to face top-seeded Garces (24-3) at a time to be determined Saturday in the final. The Rams beat No. 5 Hanford West 20-2 in the other semifinal.
“This is a huge deal, especially from where this program was until now,” Kapetan said. “We came together this year. We knew this was going to be our year.”
For years, Edison practiced in a pool that was both too small and too shallow to properly train for water polo.
Then last year, while its new aquatics complex was being built, the Tigers trained at Fresno High. And they did so after the Warriors’ programs practiced, typically going from 6:30-9 p.m. on school nights.
Now fast forward to the start of this school year and the opening of Edison’s new aquatics complex, featuring a 16-lane pool that’s at least seven feet deep the entire length of the water polo field (replacing a six-lane pool that could be walked across), a brand new scoreboard for water polo and swimming, and elevated and shaded bleacher seating.
So rather than spend an hour and a half on conditioning because the pool wasn’t big enough for all the players to do it at the same time, the Tigers now spend 30-40 minutes conditioning and have more time for skill building.
“That was a big issue,” fifth-year Tigers coach Ben Wright said. “We could swim and keep up with teams, but once we had the ball in our hand, we didn’t know what to do because we didn’t spend time on it. Now we can spend more time on fundamentals and drills.”
And the timing of the completion of the new facility couldn’t have been better for the Tigers, who for the first time ever have a collection of players who have all played for the same Edison feeder – the West Fresno water polo club – since they were in the seventh grade. It’s a group that includes seniors Logan Melton and Omar Ceja as well as juniors Kapetan, Robbie Nunes, Gavin Sanders, Micah Lawrence, Anthony Perez and Jacob Healey.
That group powered Edison to its first league boys water polo title, a 10-0 run through the County/Metro Athletic Conference capped by a 10-9 win over rival Bullard, and to a 19-14 win over No. 7 Tulare Western in the D-III quarterfinals.
“It’s amazing to see how much this team could come together to accomplish something people don’t think you can accomplish,” Melton said. “This year we knew we had something special. We all had the same goal, and we worked hard to make it happen.”
Just 53 seconds into the D-III semifinal against Exeter, Bane Stanicic scored off an assist from Melton to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead. But as soon as the goal was recorded, Edison officials stepped in and announced the school was on lock-down because of a incident only blocks away from campus that left five people shot.
Players were hustled into the locker rooms and fans were ushered to the cafeteria until Edison officials were informed it was safe to resume play by the Fresno Police Department. The delay lasted roughly 10 minutes, and when play resumed Kapetan scored twice and Melton added one as the Tigers built a 4-1 lead. It was a comfortable cushion they would not relinquish.
“We kept up our adrenalin and our focus,” said Melton, who finished with three goals. “We didn’t let that affect us. We picked it right back up when we got back in the water.”
Melton, Kapetan and Nunes all scored goals in the fourth quarter as the Tigers closed it out.
“I’m so happy and proud of them,” Wright said. “These guys were ready. Nothing could have stopped them. They were focused and ready to go.”
Division I boys – Sophomore Jens Niedereiter put Golden West ahead for the first time with 2:59 remaining in the game, and the fourth-seeded Trailblazers hung on for a 9-7 upset of top-seeded Buchanan.
Golden West, the first non-Clovis Unified school to reach the D-I final since Hanford lost to Clovis West 24-19 in 1994, will play at No. 2 Clovis at 1 p.m. Saturday for the title.
Buchanan opened a 4-0 lead within the first 5 minutes of the game, but the Trailblazers slowly chipped away and tied the score 7-7 on Jeffrey Wheeler’s goal with 5:24 left in the game.
Wheeler finished with three goals, as did Brad Dennis for Golden West, which will try to become the first non-Clovis Unified champion since Hoover beat Clovis West 14-13 in 1992. A Visalia school hasn’t won a D-I title since Mt. Whitney beat Clovis West 9-8 in 1989.
“My guys have done a great job maintaining composure when they were behind and not panicking,” Golden West coach Rick Nordell said. “And they did it today. They showed great composure. We didn’t rush things. We knew what we had to do.”
Thomas Vandiver’s four goals paced Buchanan, a six-time section champion.
Defending champion Clovis, meanwhile, will play in its fourth straight final after getting three goals from Zach Koch and two apiece from James Tombaugh, Jacob Rolih and PJ McDonough in a 10-8 victory over No. 8 Clovis West that ends the career of long-time Golden Eagles coach Steve Mosher, who is retiring.
Preston Mayer scored four times for Clovis West.
Division II boys – Top-seeded Redwood returns to the division final for the third straight year following a 7-5 victory over Monache.
The Rangers, who lost in the final to Golden West last season and to Tulare in 2013, will face No. 3 Porterville in the final scheduled for noon Saturday at Golden West.
The Panthers advanced with a 13-12 victory over No. 2 El Diamante.
Division I girls – Jillian Hatch and Raylene McVicar scored two goals apiece to lead top-seeded Clovis past No. 4 Clovis North in the semifinals.
The Cougars will host No. 2 Clovis West at 10 a.m. Saturday in the finals after the defending champion Golden Eagles got four goals from Sarah Snyder in a 9-5 defeat of No. 3 Sanger.
Division II girls – Second-seeded Hanford will host No. 4 Golden West in an all-West Yosemite League final at 11 a.m. Saturday in Lemoore.
The Bullpups beat No. 3 El Diamante 10-6, while the No. 4 Trailblazers upset No. 1 Garces 8-6.
Division III girls – No. 1 Selma is set to host the final at 11 a.m. Saturday after beating No. 3 Strathmore 15-5.
The Bears will face No. 2 Sierra Pacific, which advanced with a 7-5 victory over No. 3 Reedley.
Central Section Water Polo Championships
No. 4 Golden West (21-8) at No. 2 Clovis (20-7), 1 p.m.
No. 3 Porterville (17-5) vs. No. 1 Redwood (18-7), noon at Golden West
No. 2 Edison (27-3) at No. 1 Garces (24-3), TBA
No. 2 Clovis West (24-6) at No. 1 Clovis (28-5), 10 a.m.
No. 4 Golden West (19-12) vs. No. 2 Hanford (25-5), 11 a.m. at Lemoore
No. 2 Sierra Pacific (18-6) at No. 1 Selma (21-7), 11 a.m.