The Buchanan team celebrates in the pool after their Valley title win. The Bears finish the season 25-5 and was unbeaten by Central Section opponents. [Photo by Ron Sundquist]
By Paul Meadors | Sports Editor
The 2016 Buchanan boys water polo team can be described many ways; dominating, aggressive, and now Valley champions – and after beating Clovis 8-3 for the D-1 Central Section championship they left little doubt they’re the best.
And let’s add another simple word that describe this edition of the Bears: fun.
“We like to get after it and this team likes to have fun together,” said Buchanan coach Nic Maes. “This is a close team, like a family and when something good happens we celebrate it.”
And they got the party started just after the clock his zero the Bears as players and coaches all jumped in the pool, a fitting celebration after being upset as the No. 1 seed in last year’s semifinals by Golden West of Visalia.
In fact, the party continued well after the match was over, with players whooping and hollering with friends and family members, proudly displaying medals around their necks.
The Bears capped off a 25-5 season with their first title since 2013, behind the strong play of four-year varsity players Robert Phillips and goalie Kyle McKinney on a gorgeous morning at Buchanan’s home pool.
Phillips scored three goals and was matched up against Clovis standout PJ McDonough, holding him to a single goal while McKinney registered 12 saves. How good is McDonough? Well, he scored eight goals in the Cougars 11-6 semifinal victory over Clovis North.
“Phillips and McKinney went out like we want to send out every senior class,” added Maes. “When you can neutralize a player and be an offensive threat yourself like Robert did is a good thing. They both played phenomenal games.”
It was Phillips who scored the first goal of the game – a perfect lob shot – with 4:55 left in the first quarter and it was all Bears after that.
They No. 1 seeded Bears also received goals from sophomore Gabe Putnam, another from Phillips and Caleb Archer as they lead 4-1 at half and were never threatened.
In addition, the Bears’ Zack Keysaw, Dawson Bricks and Cade Barrett scored goals. Ryan Trutna and Matt Wilfong scored for the Cougars.
And what about that camaraderie forged between teammates – one where thousands upon thousands of hours are spent in the pool? That makes the thrill of this season’s Valley championship that much sweeter.
“I’m just ecstatic,” said Phillips. “It’s all about the team and so glad we got it as a team. It’s the brotherhood of the team that I’ll remember most.”
And for McKinney, who also was a part of last year’s national champion Buchanan baseball team, waiting three years was well worth the wait.
“This is the greatest reward ever for my senior year,” McKinney said. “It took some years to finally get here but it’s been worth it.”