Steve Eccles has to like where his team sits after the first round of conference play.
The Merced boys water polo coach has watched his team start out 5-0 in the Central California Conference.
Most of the games have been like Tuesday's 18-15 win over Golden Valley. The kind of games where it seems like you're holding your breath for 28 minutes.
"Four of the five games have been close," Eccles said. "We're lucky to be 5-0. People are hunting us. It's going to be a battle."
The Bears (14-2 overall) couldn't shake the Cougars (1-3 CCC) on Tuesday. Every time it looked as if Merced would pull away, Golden Valley rallied to make it close.
Brett Fogelberg, Matt Cagle and Adriel Rameriz all scored goals to give the Bears a 9-4 lead midway through the second quarter.
However, the Cougars answered back with two goals from Nick Gargov and a goal from Connor Hoppe to cut the lead to 9-7.
Fogelberg gave Merced a 10-7 lead at the half with another one of his game-high eight goals.
The Cougars never-give-up approach didn't surprise Merced.
"These crosstown rivalry games are the games everyone takes more serious," Fogelberg said. "(Golden Valley) kept playing hard. They kept battling and you have to admire them for that.
"That's the fun part of the game. Even when it seemed like we controlled the game they didn't give up. You have to respect that."
Scott Diele and Hoppe both scored goals to pull the Cougars even at 13-13 with 5:46 left in the game.
The Bears didn't panic. Instead, they went back to work and got the ball in the hands of Fogelberg, who fired a shot from long range to put Merced ahead 14-13 with 5:28 left. Cagle added a pair of goals as the Bears extended their lead to 16-13 with 4:37 left on the clock.
"When (Golden Valley) tied it I just talked to the guys about composure," Eccles said. "We're good in the fourth quarter. We kept our cool. I thought our seniors, Adriel and Brett, showed some leadership. I was glad to see that."
Hoppe and Gargov led Golden Valley with five goals each.
"I'm proud of our guys," Cougars coach Andy Seto said. "We finally started playing as a team again. I'm not a big fan of the result.
"Fogelberg was the star of the game. He went crazy on us."
Merced 14, Golden Valley 0
The Bears (5-0) CCC jumped on the Cougars early with five first-quarter goals.
Alison Miller assisted on Merced's first three goals with a pass to Claire Propes and then a pair of passes to Kathryn Elgin.
Miller led the Bears with six goals. Elgin finished with three scores.
Golden Valley goalie Audrey DeBard finished with 15 saves.