HANFORD — The Sierra Pacific seniors were front and center before Wednesday’s water polo match, during the match and after the match.
It was senior night for the Golden Bears and it was only appropriate that all of the seniors would contribute in their last home match.
First-place Sierra Pacific dominated last place Taft in all facets of the game with a resounding 25-3 victory.
Of the seven seniors, six scored a goal. The only one without a goal was Ethan Enquist and that’s because he was busy being a wall as goalkeeper.
The Golden Bears are in the midst of an incredible season with a perfect 8-0 league record (15-6 overall), an East Sequoia League title already in hand and sweeping last year’s defending ESL champions, Strathmore.
“We go into each game with the mentality that we’re going to win,” Allen Gordon said. “We’ve been the same group for four years. We have really strong chemistry and a good bond with each other.”
Before the match, each player was accompanied by their parents, balloons and some goodies as they were recognized in front of their home crowd. The seven seniors were Enquist, Gordon, Lucas Cameron, Ryan Holland, John Mello, Canaan Raven and Michael Mason.
Sierra Pacific coach Jordan Scott said he’ll miss their chemistry in the pool.
“The way they play and the way they click with one another, it’s going to suck not having them,” Jordan said. “But we’ve got plenty of young guys coming up and they got some big shoes to fill.”
During the match, the players recognized themselves with all-around excellent play. The Golden Bears attacked from the outset and quickly led 4-0, not even two minutes into the match.
From there, it would only get worse for Taft (2-16, 0-9 ESL) as they were outswam, outmaneuvered and outgunned.
After the first quarter, Sierra Pacific led 9-0 and by halftime, they had built a 15-2 lead. Taft managed to get on the board with two goals in the second to cut the deficit to 12-2, but Sierra Pacific just kept on scoring.
Sierra Pacific’s defense shut out Taft in the third and allowed one goal in the fourth as they scored 10 second-half goals. As the clock hit zero, parents and friends gave a warm round of applause for their boys.
Mello, Mason and Karter Pate each scored four goals, while Raven and Gordon scored three goals apiece. Holland and Cameron scored their goals in the first quarter.
“We didn’t have a senior night last year and I think it really built up to this year,” Enquist said. “This year, we’re doing really well so I appreciate [senior night].”
The Golden Bears have been on a remarkable run this season and have a strong chance of finishing undefeated in ESL play.
Their final two matches are away at fifth-place Mission Oak (3-15, 2-4 ESL) and third-place Bakersfield Christian (3-3, 3-3 ESL). Their next match against Mission Oak is on Tuesday with a time to be determined.
A deeper look into Sierra Pacific’s team shows just how good the boys have really been. The Division 3 school has six losses on the season, but five of those came against Division 1 (Buchanan) and Division 2 (Kingsburg, Tulare Union, Garces Memorial, San Joaquin Memorial) schools — teams they won’t see in the playoffs. And even then, the losses against higher ranked opponents have been close.
They lost to Buchanan — who won the Division 1 championship last year — by six, to Kingsburg by four and Tulare Union by three. Their only loss to Division 3 competition came against Strathmore, 10-9, in the Visalia Tournament. Other than that hiccup, Sierra Pacific has outscored league opponents 142-53.
One key to this year’s success has been their incredible defense.
This season, the Golden Bears are allowing 6.63 goals per match in league play compared to last year’s 7.3. On offense, they’re average 17.75 goals per match compared to last season’s 17 and they still have two more matches to play.
“There’s no stupid plays, no stupid mistakes, it’s just really smart [defense],” Jordan said. “They’re communicating with one another. It’s just smart plays all around.”
Last season, Sierra Pacific lost in the opening round of the Division 3 playoffs, but this team is different this year. They’re better, more sound and more motivated to get it this year.
“[The seniors] want rings this year and that’s what we’re playing for,” Jordan said. “That’s been the motto all season is, ‘It’s ring season.’”