State water polo champions won’t be crowned until next weekend.
But Saturday’s play-in round matches at Gulliver Prep gave a pretty good idea at who will likely hoist this year’s trophies.
Ransom Everglades and Gulliver – the two teams that have dominated the girls’ side for over a decade – met in a rematch of the last two state title games. And like last season, Ransom got the best of its rival with a 9-6 victory to advance to next weekend’s state quarterfinals.
And on the boys’ side, Belen Jesuit cleared one of its biggest obstacles to a potential state title with a 12-7 win over Gulliver. Led by Alex Alepuz’s four goals and three each from Pablo Kurzan and Ryan Guso, the Wolverines moved on to the quarterfinal round where they will play Sanford Seminole Friday.
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Belen (24-1) was eliminated in last year’s quarterfinal round by St. Thomas Aquinas. This year, the Wolverines could potentially meet Aquinas in the championship match should both teams win their first two games at state. Belen Jesuit, which lost to Aquinas in the 2013 final, will try to win its first state title since 2009.
"We had two tough games against Gulliver and we knew we needed a better defensive effort than we had before," Belen coach Jimmy Aguilera said. "The goal today was to get a big lead and wear them down as the game went on. We’re really proud of the extra effort these kids have to make day in and day out since we’re one of the few teams at this high level that’s not able to practice at an on-campus pool. They’ve worked really hard."
Sofia Rivas led Ransom’s girls with six goals as the Raiders advanced to Friday’s quarterfinals. The Raiders will take on Altamonte Springs Lake Brantley as they begin their bid to win their sixth state title in the past seven seasons.
Rivas scored twice during a three-goal stretch that helped Ransom put the match out of reach.
Ransom Everglades and Gulliver have played for the state title each of the past two seasons and have combined to win the past 14 state championships in the sport going back to 2001 before the sport was sanctioned by the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The road to a potential title could mean facing Boca Raton St. Andrews and a much improved Orlando Lake Nona team coached by former Gulliver coach Alex Bennett. But Ransom knew it needed to treat Saturday’s game against Gulliver as if it were the state championship game.
"When we found out we would play them in this round it was a little scary," Rivas said. "We had to prepare a little earlier, but it feels good that we got one of our hardest games out of the way. Now, it’s a matter of playing our game and winning a state title."