After several near misses, the boys on the St. Thomas Aquinas water polo team are finally state champions. The Raiders, in a contentious match, defeated Belen Jesuit 13-10 to win the school’s first water polo title.
Sophomore Eric Goldenberg was instrumental in the win, scoring eight goals including four second-half scores.
“I couldn’t have gotten those eight goals if it wasn’t for my teammates,” he said. “Everyone contributed.”
The game was a slugfest with the teams exchanging goals and fouls. Aquinas, who never trailed in the match, jumped out to an early lead after Goldenberg and teammate Anthony Pasarin combined for three goals in the first quarter. Belen quickly responded when Alfred Ramirez and Herzen Cortes scored a pair of goals to close the deficit to one.
Midway through the second quarter, Belen had a chance to take a lead, but Aquinas goalie Michael Walk had several key blocks. Walk, who had nine saves in the match, was able to limit Belen’s attack, while taking control of a Cortes point-blank shot that seemed destined to score. In the closing seconds of the quarter, it appeared that St. Thomas would take a 5-3 lead into halftime until Ramirez scored on a tip in front of the net.
Early in the third quarter, fouls hampered St. Thomas as it lost Bruce Espinoza, one of the team’s leading scorers, after he was ejected for drawing his third exclusion in the match.
The loss of Espinoza was a rallying cry for St. Thomas, and the Raiders went on a 5-0 run shortly after.
“We got a little bit into foul trouble so we had to do some adjustments,” St. Thomas coach Michael Goldenberg said. “Luckily for us, our adjustments worked in our favor.”With Espinoza out, the Raiders took a 12-6 lead. Late in the game, Belen mounted a furious comeback but the deficit would be insurmountable.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Aquinas senior R.J. Moore said. “As soon as [Espinoza] got ejected we knew we would have to put that much more effort into it.”
After the game, physical play spilled over to the awards ceremony when the teams momentary got into a scrum. While no punches were thrown, the teams had to be separated after a Belen player allegedly pushed an Aquinas player into the pool as the teams were lined up to congratulate each other. The tensions were quickly softened as both teams went on to receive their medals. After the ceremony, several Belen players came to the St. Thomas’ side of the pool deck to apologize and congratulate their opponents.