Winning has become commonplace for the girls on the Ransom Everglades water polo team. The Raiders captured their fourth consecutive state title behind the play of a strong core of talent last season.
In the last half-decade, Ransom has emerged as the dominant force in girls’ water polo after years of struggling to overcome its rivals. The school consistently has been able to fill its rosters with some of the best players in the county and state.
This year’s team is no different.
“Every year we set our goals really high,” Ransom coach Eric Lefebvre said. “Our bull’s-eye is even bigger.”
Led by junior Chelsea Johnson, sophomore Sofia Rivas and freshman Sofia Carrera-Justiz, the Raiders are younger than in previous championship seasons but still have more “big-game” experience than just about anyone.
“We have really strong girls and really good shooters,” Johnson said. “We play to our abilities. It’s looking good.”
Although not being hit particularly hard by graduation, the Raiders will have to adapt to losing super-star goalie Ashleigh Johnson. Ashleigh, Chelsea’s older sister, had been one the most dominant players at her position in recent state history and will be a tough piece to replace.
“Having a freshman goalie come in is going to be a big challenge,” Lefebvre said. “We are going to have to set up a whole new chemistry.”
While dreading having to replace Ashleigh, Lefebvre has been planning for the moment for some time. Last season, Ashleigh split time in goal with Claire McDowell in an effort to better prepare the younger player.
“[McDowell] had more blocks than Ashleigh did because she played in the goal more,” Lefebvre said. “Ashleigh was willing to let her get the feel for it, and hopefully she’ll be ready for it.”
The Raiders will face tough competition once the playoffs start. A number of teams across Florida have legitimate shots at knocking off the defending champions. One of Ransom’s biggest obstacles will come from inside Miami-Dade County. Gulliver Prep, Ransom’s biggest rival, has retooled with a talented squad. Gulliver gave Ransom a tough match in last season’s state quarterfinal, losing 8-7.
“Gulliver has some new kids that have strengthened their team,” Lefebvre said. “We have to be ready to play against them.”
Featuring senior Katja Rocha, junior Camila Schafer and sophomore Alexandra Guerra, Gulliver understands that to be the best in the state, it will need to defeat Ransom in the process.
“Both teams are really good this season,” Schafer said. “I’m excited to play Ransom.”
After losing three key senior, defending state champions Gulliver Prep will have to adapt with a younger team. The Raiders retained a core of experienced starters and also have added a number of freshmen.
“We are going to have a younger, more inexperienced group coming up,” Gulliver coach Carroll Vaughan.
Junior Jonathan Chow, senior Hunter Pelletier and sophomore Andres Guerra make up the Raiders’ three-headed attack that combined for 156 goals last season. The trio has helped the younger players better understand the challenges of the grueling season.
“The younger kids are making leaps,” Vaughan said. “They are playing like a team.”
One of the biggest threats the Raiders will face in trying to repeat as state champions will come from Belen Jesuit. The Wolverines have five seniors on their roster, including Jake Guso and Herzen Cortez.
The pair has been a driving force for the Wolverines’ offense, scoring a combined 165 goals last season. The Wolverines lost two players to graduation and are predicted by some to be the early favorites to win the state title.
“Guso and Herzen have a thorough understanding of the mechanics of the game,” second-year Belen coach Jimmy Aguilera said. “Expectations are high.”