After several years of waiting, the Gulliver Prep girls’ water polo team is once again the top team in Florida. In a battle of polo powerhouses, Gulliver beat rival Ransom Everglades 9-8 for the 2013 FHSAA state title on Saturday.
“It feels amazing,” Gulliver senior Katja Rocha said. “It was our time this year. We’ve all been working hard.”
Rocha was instrumental in Gulliver’s win, scoring a team-high three goals, while leading her team’s defense against one of the most talented offenses in the sport. Before the game, Gulliver coach Carroll Vaughan challenged her team to have their best defensive performance of the year. Her team responded by holding Ransom to only three second-half goals.
Ransom standout Chelsea Johnson, who was double- and triple-teamed during the game, still scored a game-high five goals.
Saturday’s state final was truly a dogfight between the state’s two best programs. Since water polo became a sanctioned sport in 2004, Ransom and Gulliver are the only two teams to win girls’ titles. It was the first time the teams faced each other in a title match since Ransom snapped Gulliver’s four-year championship run in 2008.
In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, it was still a guess which team would come out winning. Leading 7-6, Schafer scored on a five-meter penalty shot to give Gulliver a two-goal cushion. Seconds later, Johnson scored on her own penalty shot to cut the lead to a goal again. Midway through the quarter, Gulliver attacker Alexandra Guerra scored what eventually would be the game’s winning goal on a strike that sailed passed the diving goalie.
Down 9-7, Johnson again scored after splitting a double team to close Gulliver’s lead back to one. Johnson nearly tied the game on a half-pool throw, but the shot sailed just wide of the goal. Moments after the shot landed harmlessly away from the goal, the final buzzer sounded giving Gulliver the win.
One of the things Vaughan said she is most proud of is how her team did not quit when faced with a challenge. Early in the second quarter, Gulliver faced a three-goal deficit when Johnson scored on a penalty shot. Ransom had a chance to take a commanding lead at halftime, but was prevented from scoring again thanks to stellar defense.
“We knew we couldn’t quit,” Schafer said. “We’ve seen games before where teams have been down by five and still gone up.”