Chelsea Johnson swam out of the pool, tears welling up in her eyes, knowing that her high school career was over.
A major foul called on Johnson for elbowing during the first quarter kept Miami Ransom Everglades’ senior water polo star out for the rest of Saturday’s girls’ state championship match.
“It was horrible,” said Johnson, a Princeton University signee. “I kept pinching myself to wake up from this nightmare. It couldn’t end like that.”
Johnson’s teammates refused to let the incident cost them their shot at a state title.
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Led by four goals from sophomore Sofia Carrera-Justiz and a spectacular performance by sophomore goalkeeper Claire McDowell, Ransom won a thrilling 6-5 match against rival Miami Gulliver to secure its fifth state championship in the past six seasons.
The two teams have accounted for the past 14 state championships in the sport.
“All I thought about throughout the game was that our team captain wasn’t here so we had to do this for her,” McDowell said. “I feel like Gulliver looked at us like we were just Chelsea and we had to prove them wrong.”
Johnson, who paced nervously on the pool deck throughout the match, finally got a chance to jump back in the pool afterward when she celebrated with her team.
“The whole match I just kept telling them, ‘You can do this,’ ” Johnson said.
Johnson, who entered the game with a team-best 108 goals, was forced to leave the game with the score tied at 2 in the first quarter after the referee ruled she had elbowed one of Gulliver’s players.
Ransom (26-2) continued to play solid defense throughout and Carrera-Justiz sparked the Raiders with two goals to open the second quarter.
“I was just praying we could make that last stop we needed to win,” Carrera-Justiz said. “I was so nervous those last couple of minutes, but I knew we could pull through.”
McDowell saved numerous shots throughout the match as Gulliver (27-2) continued to press the attack tying the match at 4 after three quarters.
Junior Alexandra Guerra scored all five of Gulliver’s goals including a score that came on a breakaway with 3:23 remaining in the fourth to give Gulliver a 5-4 lead.
But McDowell had two key assists that helped Ransom secure the title.
McDowell threw a long lead pass to Carrera-Justiz as she swam past Gulliver’s defenders that she caught and quickly fired on target for the tying goal with 1:46 remaining. After another defensive stop, McDowell then floated another pass down the pool on target again to junior Sofia Rivas who lobbed the ball into the back of the net for the decisive goal with 1:10 left.
Ransom would do the rest defensively disrupting Gulliver’s last-ditch efforts to tie the game.
Although Johnson graduates, Ransom Everglades returns the rest of its roster next season hoping to add to its championship résumé.
“That team that just won together out there comes back intact next season,” Ransom coach Eric Lefebvre said. “It’s a huge victory for our program.”
Ransom also dedicated its win to another valued member of its program — school headmaster Ellen Moceri, who is retiring after 13 years in her current position.
“There’s nothing I love to see more than kids overcoming adversity and these girls did just that today coming back,” Moceri said. “We built this wonderful place for these teams to play and win like this. This was great to see.”