It was April 25, 2014, and the Olympia girls water polo team was on the bus back to Southwest Orange from Miami.
The Titans had just made their first appearance as a program at state, but had been defeated 5-1 by Lake Nona in the quarterfinals.
Although there was some disappointment, for the six freshmen on the team, there was also a sense of excitement — after all, for four of the six, this was their first season of organized water polo.
"I was sitting there with Marcela (Herrera), and she looked at me and said, ‘I think our senior year we’re going to do it.'"
— Leila Sorrells
Leila Sorrells recalled a sense for that year’s freshmen — now seniors — that the loss was not an end, but rather a beginning.
“The ride home from state freshman year, I was sitting there with Marcela (Herrera), and she looked at me and said, ‘I think our senior year we’re going to do it,’” Sorrells said. “We were like, ‘We have so many freshman girls this year (in 2014), our senior year we’re going to do it — we’re going to go all the way.’”
That statement made on a bus ride along Florida’s Turnpike turned out to be prophetic — on April 8, Olympia defeated Gulliver Prep 7-4 in the FHSAA State Championship Game.
It is the first team championship in a girls sports for Olympia High and the school’s third team championship, overall.
It was the ultimate sendoff for the seniors, including Sorrells, Jillian De Lisle, Herrera, Grace Whidden, Claire Ewoldt and Kaley Hopegill.
“This group of seniors — it’s like a storybook start and a storybook finish,” said coach Stephanie Johnson Possell.
If it was a storybook finish, it was also an oddly methodical storybook. The girls water polo team’s path from a loss in the state quarterfinals in 2014 to a state championship in 2017 was rather linear. In 2015, the Titans lost in the state semifinals — again to Lake Nona. In 2016, they made it to the state championship match but lost to Ransom Everglades.
With nothing left to achieve but a ring, they did just that.
“We’ve progressively gotten better,” Hopegill said. “It’s been really cool to see the evolution of our team. My freshman year, it was a huge deal just to make it to state. Now, we’re state champions.”
The step-by-step nature was something the team had not set out to do, but looking back, Sorrells said it was rewarding.
“Every year was like a new prize and new school history being made every year,” Sorrells said.
“There is always one of them who has the right thing to say, or has the right attitude or has the right shot. One of the six always stepped up whenever the team needed it.”
— Stephanie Johnson Possell, head coach
The senior class, which spent the better parts of four years together playing together either on their varsity or club teams, will be missed by many — but most especially by their coach.
“There is always one of them who has the right thing to say, or has the right attitude or has the right shot,” Johnson Possell said. “One of the six always stepped up whenever the team needed it.”
Of course, it’s not a one-way street, either. All six seniors expressed profound appreciation for the time their coach had invested in them.
“That’s one of the best parts of it,” Sorrells said. “The amount of time that she has put in, I’m so glad that we got to do this for her.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].