By most measurements, 2017 was an unremarkable season for the Paso Robles High School boys water polo team. The Bearcats lost more games than they won (12-15, 3-6 PAC 8) and finished in fifth place in league play.
But the season was anything but ordinary for senior Zach Tucker.
Tucker, one of two returning starters, was a goal-scoring machine on a team filled with freshmen. He found the back of the net 119 times this season, ranking him as the No. 6 goal scorer of reporting teams in the vast CIF-Southern Section. Tucker averaged nearly 4 1/2 goals per game and broke his own school single-season scoring record set last season with 105 goals.
For his accomplishments, Tucker has been named The Tribune’s Boys Water Polo County Player of the Year.
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“With an inexperienced team, teams would know that Zach was our main scorer, so they would double and triple team him. And he would still find a way to score,” Paso Robles coach Duane McRoy said.
Tucker, a former baseball pitcher, used his long arms and muscular 6-foot-3, 190-pound frame to rack up goals, but he said it was the chemistry with fellow seniors Nick Marcove and John Nash that made it all possible.
“There is no way I could have made all those goals without those guys,” Tucker said.
In his best performances of the season, he scored 10 goals against Madera, nine goals against Reedley and eight goals against St. Joseph. But it was a game against top-ranked Arroyo Grande in his last home game that stands out.
“We all knew A.G. was one of the best teams around,” Tucker said. “I just told the guys don’t get down.”
Paso Robles lost 18-13, but Tucker scored six goals as a large group of friends and family looked on. It was the closest the Bearcats had come to beating Arroyo Grande in his time with the team, and Tucker said he felt a sense of pride after hanging tough with such a talented team.
And Tucker’s impact on the program goes beyond the pool. In a school where more popular sports like football, baseball and cross country reign supreme, he has been working to raise the profile of water polo.
He helps with the girls water polo team and has been working with middle schoolers in the area with the hopes of generating interest in the sport. His goal is to help them learn the fundamentals and see the reasons why he loves the game so much.
Paso Robles will get a big boost in the coming years when the new aquatics center comes to campus, scheduled to break ground in April 2018 and open in January 2019, according to McRoy. No longer will teams have to practice in a small pool deemed unfit for playoff competition.
Tucker will continue to work with the Paso Robles girls team and play with the team at Cuesta College, where he is considering playing next season, along with Cal Lutheran, University of Redlands and Michigan State. No matter his next step, Tucker has left his mark at Paso Robles.
“Zach’s legacy shows that if you want to compete at a high level, its all in attitude and desire — no matter what size your pool is,” McRoy said.