PCHS boys’ water polo claims state title
After losing in the 3A championship match last season, the Park City High School boys’ water polo team was determined to make it to the top in 2016.
Last Saturday at Ecker Hill Middle School, the Miners did just that. Although the team was denied a chance at a rematch with Canyon View because of an upset by Bear River in the semifinals, the Miners left no doubt that they were the best team in the state by earning a 20-12 victory.
Park City Coach Josh Loyens said the Park City offense was clicking from the start of the game and never let up.
"They came out and played great," he said. "They ran their offense excellently. They drive a lot on offense — not a lot of 3A teams in Utah do that."
As good as the fast-scoring offense was, though, Loyens said the defense also played a big part in affecting Bear River’s tactics.
"[Bear River] runs a crazy counter-attack instead of a more traditional offense," he said. "We pressed out because our center defender was able to completely lock out their center."
Behind the defense, goalie Joe Simmons made sure the Bears couldn’t mount a comeback.
"He’s a very good goalie and blocks a lot of shots that other goalies don’t," Loyens said. "He’s very good at blocking close-up shots. He’s been an asset for us."
For his efforts, Simmons earned third-team All-State honors. His teammates, Jack Loyens (younger brother of Coach Josh) and Matt Whipple, earned first-team honors. Josh Loyens said Whipple and Jack Loyens were the driving forces behind Park City’s high-octane offense.
"Jack and Matt run our offense and our defense," he said. "Matt is the outside shooter and primary driver. Jack is the center offensive player."
Once the game was over, Loyens said the Miners were relieved to have avenged last year’s loss in the finals.
"It felt great to them," he said. "This year, they knew they were a much better team than last year. Tactically, we were running more drives, making farther out shots and just, overall, we were a much better all-around team."
Loyens credits extra offseason work as the primary factor in Park City’s improvement.
"[Assistant Coach Jeff Whipple] also is the head coach of the Premier team and a lot of players did that in the offseason," he said. "Those are much more competitive than our high school season, so that helps them a ton. They learn so much on that Premier team and in the Junior Olympics."
The Park City girls’ squad, also coached by Loyens, came up just short in its quest to repeat as 3A champions. In a 2015 title-game rematch, the Miners lost to Cedar 10-6. Loyens said the loss of Blaire McDowell from last year’s team hurt.
"It was an entirely different game than the game we played last year," he said. "[McDowell] moved away this year, so we had to do without this all-star girl who had been playing for many years."
Thus, Loyens said, even making it to the final was a big confidence booster for the Miners, who have a bright future in both boys’ and girls’ water polo.
"This year, we did not expect the girls team to get second," he said. "Most of them are freshmen, sophomores at the oldest. We lost a huge juggernaut of a player [in McDowell], but these girls came out and played well. For them to come out and get second was awesome."
Bella Buchanan earned first-team All-State honors for the Miners. Ali Kuennen and Alexa Spink earned second-team honors and Jessica Byer received third-team All-State honors.
Park City High School senior Ben Agnew plays several significant roles on the baseball team, but his character off the field is just as important.