Olympia High water polo head coach Stephanie Johnson-Possell won her 500th and 501st win with her girls and boys teams before the season was suspended due to COVID-19.
On Friday, March 13, Stephanie Johnson-Possell hit a milestone that she had been looking forward to since taking over the Olympia High School water polo teams back in 2009.
Her girls team (19-4) had beaten Boca Raton 14-3 in the annual Wildcat Tournament in Winter Park to give Johnson-Possell her 500th win. That same day, her boys team (21-2) won her her 501st win with an 18-5 thrashing over Boca Raton.
It was a career moment that acknowledged the kind of program she had built at the school throughout the years, but within the span of the afternoon it became a bittersweet moment that Johnson-Possell didn’t have the heart to celebrate. That afternoon, it was announced that schools — and sports — would be shut down in response to the spread of the coronavirus.
“It’s really hard to celebrate that,” Johnson-Possell said. “It’s something that was a goal of mine to reach that many (wins), but with everything else that is going on, it’s just so not important. I’m so much more concerned and heartbroken for our seniors, for our team this year — we had great chemistry and amazing kids.
“We still don’t know officially if we are allowed to finish or not,” she said. “FHSAA has said, ‘We are postponed and could possibly do stuff until June 30,’ but is that really realistic? I don’t know.”
When the season was suspended, both teams had only two games left in the regular season before the start of postseason action. In fact, Saturday, April 4, was the day the Titans should have been competing in regional play.
This also was supposed to be the season where the teams would put something together and make a deep run through the playoffs. For the boys — who won the state title in 2018 — it was meant to be a chance to make up for the state runner-up finish they had in 2019.
“It gave us a mission to do something this year,” Johnson-Possell said. “We were working on putting all of those pieces together to go for the gold again this year — now, the opportunity may not ever come about.”
Above the wins, however, are the seniors who could possibly be facing the end of their high school careers in the pool under Johnson-Possell’s guidance.
On the girls team, Johnson-Possell had five key seniors in Sofia Dahlmann, Ali Wagner, Lexi Hutton, Amanda Clinco and Shelby Sorrells, while the boys team included seniors Alec Johnson, Touma Mack, Pavan Iyenger, Yan Mendez, Ryan Hopegill and Griffin Ewoldt.
“They’re all frustrated and they’re all hurt,” Johnson-Possell said. “This class was also born the same year Sept. 11 (happened), so they’ve been able to overcome … but it’s robbing them of all of the fun senior things that seniors get to do.
“It’s something that was a goal of mine to reach that many (wins), but with everything else that is going on, it’s just so not important.”
— Stephanie Johnson-Possell
“It’s also affecting the juniors as far as recruiting goes,” she said. “This is the big showcase for juniors. This time of the season, for us, is where we get the most growth out of our athletes, because you put all of the pieces together all season long, and then those pieces come together in the postseason.”
Throughout her time coaching at Olympia, the biggest thing Johnson-Possell has enjoyed has been helping players grow to their fullest potential — making it to the next level.
Players like Mack went from struggling to simply swim in the beginning to being offered scholarships — in Mack’s case to Princeton University. Meanwhile, Johnson committed to play at the University of California, Los Angeles.
For the time being, all Johnson-Possell and her teams can do is wait. It’s uncertain if the Titans will be able to play anymore this season, but Johnson-Possell said at some point she’ll make sure there will be some means of closure for her players.
“I want to make sure we celebrate,” Johnson-Possell said. “We need some kind of conclusion to the season at some point — whenever that is. Whether it’s a team banquet or a senior night, at some point we just need something for some kind of closure if we don’t get to play in our postseason.”