- April 8, 2020
Working their way through the usual drills, members of the Olympia boys water polo team get in their reps.
It’s humid and warm inside the Rosen YMCA Aquatic Center on I-Drive, but the water is just fine, and things feel as they should. In other words, it’s another tough practice led by head coach Stephanie Johnson Possell.
Then a break is called as Johnson Possell gets the team together in the center of the pool for a big announcement: Senior Luke Carey had just been named OCPS Male Athlete of the Year.
“I was shocked, because I know there are so many incredible athletes throughout the county,” Carey said. “And at first, I thought it was just water polo throughout the county, but when she said it was all sports, I thought it was crazy. There are baseball players and football players going D1 — to SEC schools — and I didn’t compare.”
Coming into his final year at Olympia, he knew the expectations would be high — for him and the team — but he didn’t know an award like that would come his way, despite how well the squad has done this season.
A year after winning the state title, the Titans had a target on their backs, and despite getting their best shots in, only one team has managed to best Olympia. That team was Gulliver Prep, which took an 9-8 overtime win in the Ian Supra Tournament in early March that broke the Titans’ 16-game win streak.
“The team was devastated … we were distraught,” Carey said. “That lit a fire in us in the pool — we’ve been a lot more focused than we were at the beginning of the year, from our starters all the way to all of our bench players I’ve seen a change that needed to happen.”
That lone blip of failure is the only tarnish on an otherwise incredible 26-1 season so far for the Titans, and for Carey it’s been one of equal success. On the stat sheet alone, he leads the team in goals, assists, steals and shot blocks, and this season, he became the record-holder for goals in a season. The 118th goal came in April, though he hasn’t stopped there — right now, he has more than 140 goals.
Carey’s record-setting abilities in the pool are impressive enough, but add in the fact that he’s only been playing since just before high school, and it makes the accomplishments even more amazing.
“I played like, football, baseball, basketball and soccer — I played it all — and then my mom took me to a game in eighth grade to watch Olympia, and I told my mom, ‘I can’t do that,’” Carey said. “I can swim, but four quarters treading water — swimming up and down — that’s a no-go.”
Carey isn’t alone in being introduced to the sport late, Johnson Possell said — almost every athlete comes into the sport having never played before.
“It’s always fun watching all athletes develop in water polo, because they come in as freshman, and they have no experience whatsoever,” Johnson Possell said. “So it’s very rewarding to watch all athletes grow. When you have an athlete who has some skill from other sports and puts it together with their swimming ability, it’s magic. Luke is a competitor — he plays and competes at everything he does.”
Luckily for Carey and the others, they have Johnson Possell to lead the way and help them reach their true potential. It’s been her guidance that has really helped push him to being one of the best players in the state, Carey said. Throughout his life in sports, no one coaches quite like Johnson Possell.
“Just being able to hop into a sport, and be able to learn and grow so quickly with a coach that knows so much about the game and is willing to push you really hard... that is one of the reasons why we are so successful,” Carey said. “I’ve played a lot of sports, and this is the coach that has pushed me the hardest out of any of them.”
“I was shocked, because I know there are so many incredible athletes throughout the county. And at first, I thought it was just water polo throughout the county, but when she said it was all sports, I thought it was crazy.
— Luke Carey
Although there is a lot to celebrate right now, the biggest task for Carey and the Titans lies ahead in the FHSAA state semifinals this weekend in Boca Raton.
On Friday, May 10, the Titans will take on St. Thomas Aquinas (22-4) — which Olympia beat twice this season — in the semis. If they win, they more than likely will get another shot at Gulliver Prep.
With the Titans’ last game — a regional final win over Seminole — taking place Friday, April 26, it will have been two weeks since they have seen any action.
“It’s been tough,” Carey said. “That’s been one of our main concerns — not being able to play at a high level until then. We’ve just been practicing against each other really hard, and that’s one of the things we haven’t been doing all year.”
This weekend’s match(es) will be the last for Carey in his legendary high-school career, but the future University of Florida Gator — who plans on trying out for the club water polo team — is already thinking of what kind of legacy he hopes to leave at Olympia High.
“I want people to remember me as a guy who came in and busted his butt, and came from nothing and became the best,” Carey said. “We’re trying to show the freshmen that you have to do the work to be the best — it doesn’t just happen. I want people to remember me as the guy who was completely dominant in his sport — I think that would be a pretty cool legacy to leave.”