Before the Olympia Titans girls water polo team began the FHSAA 2017 State Championship Match, its members issued a challenge to one another.
A few feet away from the pool at Ransom Everglades High, where the state tournament was held, was a table with the two trophies and the respective medals for the state champion and the state runner-up that would be crowned that afternoon.
And so, after reaching the same point a season earlier and coming back to Southwest Orange County with the runners-up trophy and silver medals, the challenge was clear: “Look at that table and decide which trophy and which medal you want to bring home with you.”
When the dust had settled, the Titans had upgraded from silver to gold, defeating Gulliver Prep 7-4 in the FHSAA State Championship Game April 8.
The win completed not only a championship campaign — the program’s first — but also an undefeated one. Olympia finished the season with a 31-0 record.
“It’s totally cool — teams don’t do that,” head coach Stephanie Johnson Possell said of the team’s remarkable feat. “Going undefeated is amazing.”
Tied at 3-3 at halftime against Gulliver Prep, the Titans steadily pulled away in the second half. With about a minute to play, a timeout was called with Olympia leading 6-4.
Faced with the opportunity to seize something they had all worked so hard for, the Titans were ready to execute.
“We had specifically worked in practice (on late-game situations),” senior Leila Sorrells said. “So we all went out there, and it was executed flawlessly. That’s how we got the last goal.”
That last goal was scored by Jillian Delisle, who finished with three goals in the match, and it effectively sealed the deal by giving Olympia a 7-4 advantage.
“We scored one final goal, and that’s when it really sank in,” Delisle said.
“Without having a pool a campus … we never really have a home — so our home is who we are."
— Stephanie Johnson Possell, head coach
The crowd counted down the game’s final seconds, and it was an emotional moment for all, including Johnson Possell. The veteran coach has been coaching water polo for more than two decades in Florida and Pennsylvania, where she won a state title in 1997.
“Before this game started, I couldn’t talk,” Johnson Possell said. “It was all right there — the emotions were all right there, and I couldn’t talk. And (senior) Grace Whidden turns around and says, ‘Don’t worry coach, we got this.’ … That was a pretty neat thing.”
The championship is the first girls team sport state championship for Olympia High and the school’s third team championship, overall.
For Johnson Possell, it is a significant step in the tradition and the culture she is trying to build for a program at a public school without a pool of its own.
“Without having a pool a campus … we never really have a home — so our home is who we are,” Johnson Possell said.
One way she tried to bolster that sense of tradition was by reaching out to some of the program’s alumni during the season. Sensing this year’s team might be the one to get over the hump, she asked that they send some words of encouragement — and 22 alumni responded by doing just that. Each day between the district tournament and Saturday’s state championship, the coach read a letter or two to her team to remind them of that support and tradition.
For the girls, finishing the undefeated campaign was the realization of hours upon hours of hard work.
“We definitely gave 110% of our time,” Delisle said. “The whole motivation for us was that moment of winning the state championship.”
As luck would have it, the girls — who have been to state in each of the past three years, also — won the title the first time that they made the trip to Miami along with the boys team. Although previous trips to state in 2014, 2015, and 2016 included smaller crowds for Olympia, given the drive from Orange County to Miami, having the boys team there created a built-in cheering section.
Although the boys lost in their own state quarterfinal game to St. Thomas Aquinas April 7, they still got to play a role in helping cheer their peers to victory.
“One thing that made it extra special this year was having both teams at State,” Johnson Possell said. “If there was a competition of spectators, we won that. Our boys did fantastic (supporting the girls). … It was great hearing them.”
Since winning the championship, the girls have enjoyed congratulations from family, friends, classmates and more.
“The coolest part has been how the sense of community has shown through,” Delisle said.
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].