Dr. Phillips’ Brandon Fields and Windermere High’s Carson Montgomery were among the 80 players selected to participate in the Prospect Development Pipeline league this summer.
By the time the final whistle had been blown, the Olympia boys water polo team found themselves on a side they had only experienced once all season.
After four quarters of play in the FHSAA state-title game Saturday, May 11, at Boca Raton High School, the scoreboard read 16-14 in favor of Gulliver Prep.
The loss was disheartening, to say the least, and it left the Titans discombobulated — although there were silver linings related to the season.
“Gulliver was able to capitalize on a couple of mistakes we had, and we didn’t execute everything that we are capable of,” said head coach Stephanie Johnson Possell. “A silver medal is a pretty fantastic thing for a school without a pool. To have four medals in four years is pretty amazing, and we have a lot of positive things that happened over the year.”
In the regular season, the Titans had split the series with Gulliver — going 1-1 — but things seemed to get away late.
Despite getting three goals apiece from Touma Mack, Alec Johnson and Danny Cruz — along with two from Luke Carey — in the game, going into the fourth quarter the Titans (29-2) and Raiders (28-1) were knotted up at 13-13. Then, the Raiders went up two goals — and there was no rally from the Titans who were looking to make it back-to-back state titles.
“Our kids played hard — they played hard the entire game,” Johnson Possell said. “They really gave it 100%, and you know they are kids, and sometimes, you make mistakes. There’s not one thing that you can say, ‘If this had been different, we would have been able to do that.’”
But the weekend wasn’t a total loss for Olympia. The Titans played an absolute barn-burner in the semifinal the day before against another state power in St. Thomas Aquinas.
“A silver medal is a pretty fantastic thing for a school without a pool. To have four medals in four years is pretty amazing, and we have a lot of positive things that happened over the year.”
—Stephanie Johnson Possell
In that game, the Titans were pushed to their limits — taking St. Thomas Aquinas into overtime before a game-winning goal from Mack pushed Olympia to the championship game.
It was an impressive showing, especially given that Olympia — like the other competitors — had a long, two-week gap between their regional final and the state semifinals. That gap is a result of changes made by the FHSAA for this season.
“We are a team that plays really well when we get to play hard game after hard game,” Johnson Possell said. “That’s a difficult thing to do, because when you’re in postseason mode, you’re in postseason mode. But all teams were in the same boat — it’s hard for all the teams to have to come out of nowhere and play hard after not playing for a while.”
Despite the disappointment that comes with losing in the state-title game, there’s been a lot to take from this year’s team — which Johnson Possell has said is probably the best team she has ever had.
The 29 wins on the season are impressive, and the two losses were as close as you can get. In total, only three goals were the difference from being undefeated this season.
Then there’s the individual accolades picked up this season, highlighted by senior Luke Carey being named the OCPS Male Athlete of the Year. That award came after Carey broke the school’s single-season goal record, which he shattered — he totaled 147 goals this year.
Although Johnson Possell will be without vital pieces in Carey and Cruz, there’s no reason to believe that next season should see the Titans machine slow down.
Important starters such as Ryan Hopegill, Mack, Johnson, Griffin Ewoldt and Eli Schweitzer will be back to avenge the state-title loss and continue to make the Titans a force.
“We know what works well for us, and we know things that we will do better,” Johnson Possell said. “Every year of coaching is another learning experience, so there are definitely things that will be better.
“Every year is like putting a new puzzle together — ‘What pieces are going to fit where?’” she said. “That’s something about coaching that I really enjoy — putting those pieces together.”