Bear Creek’s boy’s water polo team played a winning season and once again remained undefeated in the SJAA league this year, completely shutting out teams such as the McNair Eagles. The Bruins’ success was undoubtedly driven by the performance of their goalie, Ethan McLaughlin.
McLaughlin was the centerpiece of the Bruins’ defense, with 330 saves — the fifth-highest number of saves in the nation — and led the nation with an average 14.3 saves per game according to the high school sports website MaxPreps. McLaughlin has four full-court goals, more goals than some of the offensive players on the Bruins’ team.
“When my dad told me that I was leading the nation in saves per game, I didn’t believe him,” McLaughlin said. “I can’t take all the credit. Our defense was great this year and helped me protect the cage.”
McLaughlin started playing water polo in the 5th grade for Bruin Aquatics, coached by Tom Downer. He was an attacker in his early years of the sport, playing as a 2-meter guard for Big Valley Water Polo from 2012 to 2015. He was also an attacker for the Bear Creek Bruins in his freshman year. However, coach Shane Mahone selected McLaughlin to play goalie in Big Valley’s 2016 season. With his experience in the cage, McLaughlin has played goalie for the Bruins since his sophomore year.
“I never expected myself to play goalie, but I always was a defensive player,” McLaughlin said. “I wanted to refuse the position, but as I played I fell in love with being in the cage.”
McLaughlin has played goalie for the Bruins and for Big Valley since 2016, and he has qualified for the Olympic Developmental Program, training among D1 athletes and players on the U.S. National team. McLaughlin also practices at goalie clinic in San Jose, where he is coached by John Vargas, Stanford’s head water polo coach.
“I was just another goalkeeper during my first few seasons in the position,” Mc- Laughlin said. “After training in Chicago in the Olympic Developmental Program and taking lessons with experienced goalies, I gained so much experience that helps me in the cage every game.”
McLaughlin plans to continue his water polo career at San Joaquin Delta College for the financial advantages, where he will play goalie until he transfers to a four- year university.
“I haven’t just learned how to get out of the water up to my thighs or how to read shots from arm movements from my experience as a goalie,” McLaughlin said. “It taught me important lessons like taking responsibility for my actions and staying strong during tough situations. I’m ready to learn even more when I play goalie for Delta.”