SANGER – The two-time defending County Metro Athletic Conference champions, the Sanger High boys water polo team, is taking the tough early season route in a bid for ultimate postseason success.
The Apaches are loading the early-season schedule with strong Division I and II opposition, in particular Clovis Unified Schools. The season began with a 15-7 setback at reigning Division II Clovis West on Aug. 17, and on Wednesday, Aug. 23 they opened their home campaign with a matchup against the Division II Clovis East Timberwolves.
For three quarters-plus, the Apaches put on a playoff atmosphere battle with their neighbors to the north. But the visitors got the edge in the late stages of each period and in particular the fourth, scoring three of the final four goals to post an 11-9 victory at Sanger Aquatics Complex.
Senior Jaxon Hoover scored six goals to pace the offense for Sanger, which went 22-6 last season including a second straight unbeaten run through CMAC play but made a quick exit in the Division I section playoffs. Coach Micha Pavlovic is using a tough early pre-league schedule to help sharpen the team from its Division II base to a hoped-for postseason run at the highest level.
“We have high hopes, the boys want to be D-I and they want to be in the playoffs. So we try to emulate the playoff experience every game,” he said. “Our schedule (consists of) more than half of the teams being D-1 teams.”
Hoover, a first team all-CMAC player and second team all-section honoree last year, had two of his goals in the opening quarter as Sanger grabbed an early 3-1 lead. But Clovis East (1-0) hammered in a goal in the final 30 seconds of the period, setting the stage for four unanswered goals and a 5-3 lead midway through the second.
Hoover and fellow senior Tyson Provost scored goals to bring the Apaches within 6-5 just seconds before halftime, but Marco Escatell scored an improbable goal from near mid-pool into the upper corner of the net for a 7-5 lead at the break. Sanger rallied to tie the score on a goal by Nathaniel Tuell, but another score in the final seconds gave Clovis East the lead entering the final quarter.
Hoover’s goal with just under six minutes to play tied the game at 9-8, but both he and Provost collected major fouls which resulted in multiple 5-meter penalty shots. Escatell (who finished with four goals) converted to put the visitors ahead to stay, setting off a three-goal run to make it 11-8 with less than two minutes remaining. Jag Zwaschka also scored four goals for the visitors.
“When you have a lot of close games, you’ve got to deal with defeat if it happens,” Pavlovic said. “The end goal for us is the playoffs.”
Sanger opens CMAC play on Tuesday, Sept. 19 at home against Justin Garza High. The Apaches boys will participate in two competitive non-league tournaments; the 99 Ignite event at El Capitan High in Merced on Sept. 1-2 (including a matchup against a Sac-Joaquin Section champion school) and the Granite Bay tourney east of Sacramento on Sept. 22-23. The girls team will play at the Woodcreek Invitational on Sept. 22-23 and the Arroyo Grande Tournament on Oct. 5-7.
Here is a recap on other water polo teams in the region:
Reedley – The Pirates boys (15-14 in 2022) are off to a 2-0 start to the season, drubbing Yosemite High 14-3 on Aug. 17 and then cruising past Edison High 11-2 in a non-league contest on Aug. 22. Reedley High’s girls – defending Tri County Conference champions who went 20-12 and a perfect 16-0 in league – collected a 17-6 home win over Edison on Aug. 22.
Sanger West – The Hornets’ boys team went 8-17 in its first year of competition in 2022, and opened the current campaign with a 12-6 victory against visiting Granite Hills of Porterville on Aug. 17. The Hornets girls (4-7 in their inaugural season) did not play that day, but both teams will be in action at Edison High on Thursday, Aug. 24, and open North Yosemite League play on Wednesday, Sept. 13 at home against Roosevelt.
Dinuba – The Emperor boys went 4-15 in 2022, winless in their first season as a West Yosemite League member, while the DHS girls posted records of 5-14 and 1-9. The teams have five home games in the first three weeks of the season starting Tuesday, Aug. 22, and begin league play at home against Hanford High on Monday, Sept. 25.