The Ransom Everglades girls’ water polo team, which has won five state titles in the past six years, will play without either Johnson sister for the first time since their dynasty began in 2009.
Ashleigh Johnson, who was named the Outstanding Goalkeeper while representing Team USA at the 2014 FINA World Cup, won three consecutive state titles at Ransom and now stars as a junior at Princeton.
Chelsea Johnson, who is now a freshman field player at Princeton, was on the Ransom team since the eighth grade, helping the Raiders win four state titles.
Ransom coach Eric Lefebvre, another key figure in the Raiders run, enters his eighth season directing the program and sees no reason why the good times need to stop just because the Johnson girls are gone.
“We believe in ourselves,” he said.
Lefebvre points out that Ransom was able to beat Gulliver 6-5 in last year’s state final even after Chelsea Johnson was ejected in controversial fashion after officials ruled she swung an elbow.
Winning without her, even if only for that one key match, bodes well for this year when other Ransom players will need to emerge
Leading the way this year will be senior attacker Sofia Rivas, who will play next season at Cal. She also plays on the Brazilian Junior National Team and often flies to South America for international tournaments.
“She knows how to use her speed to break games open,” Lefebvre said.
Another Ransom senior who will play collegiately next season is defender Lucy Grossman, who is headed to George Washington University. Lefebvre said Grossman was never the most talented Raider but has worked her way into her spot.
Junior Claire McDowell, who has looked up to Ashleigh Johnson for years, is now an elite goalkeeper in her own right, and Sofia Carrera-Justiz, a junior attacker, is Ransom’s emotional leader.
“Sofia has a fire to her that can spark us,” Lefebvre said.
Senior center Katie Pfleger and junior attacker Isa Reyes-Capo round out Ransom’s top six.
Is it enough?
Lefebvre said St. Andrews and Orlando Dr. Phillips will be among the challengers around the state.
But Lefebvre said nobody will push his girls more than local rival Gulliver, which won the first four FHSAA-sanctioned state titles, from 2005 to 2008, but only one since then.
So far, out of 10 state tournaments, the championship count reveals five for Ransom, five for Gulliver and zero for the rest of the state.
Gulliver is led this year by three top seniors, sisters Alexandra and Andrea Guerra as well as Daniella Fuertes. Gulliver also has nine freshmen, including two who are starters.
And even with last year’s loss, Gulliver is still 3-1 in state finals against Ransom.
“You always have to mention Gulliver because they have a great program,” Lefebvre said. “Because of our success, they will be gunning for us.”
Girls’ season overview
Top returning players
Victoria Bevill, Westminster Academy, Sr.
Sofia Carrera-Justiz, Ransom, Jr.
Alexandra Guerra, Gulliver, Sr.
Haily Hill, Fort Lauderdale, Jr.
Koral LaStella, Westminster Academy; Sr..
Sofia Rivas, Ransom, Sr.
Naomi Sanders, Westminster Academy; So.
Anna Smith-Johnson, St. Thomas Aquinas, Sr.
GK: Andrea Guerra, Gulliver, Sr.
GK: Claire McDowell, Ransom, Jr.
GK: Emily Stevenson, Westminster Academy, Sr.
Others to watch
Daniella Fuertes, Gulliver, Sr.; Lucy Grossman, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; Mary Elizabeth Mahoney, Westminster Academy, Sr.; Cara Mullery, MAST, Jr.; Katie Pfleger, Ransom Everglades, Sr.; Samantha Rosenberg, Gulliver, Jr.; Andrea Vallejo, Cypress Bay, Sr.; Sydney Vigille, Krop, Sr.
GIRLS’ TEAM-BY-TEAM OUTLOOKS
CYPRESS BAY: Coach: Tori Warenik; Last year: 7-2; Top players: Jessica Modrak (sr.); Andrea Vallejo (sr.); Nicole Rodriguez (jr.); Noteworthy: Warenik begins her first year as Cypress Bay’s coach.
FORT LAUDERDALE: Coach: Debbie Cavanaugh; Last year: 10-1; Top players: Hayley Hill (jr.); Emily Hill (so.); Daniela Ortiz (sr.); Noteworthy: The nucleus of this team has played together for two years. Hayley Hill made first-team all-county.
GOLEMAN: Coach: Hal Flowers; Last year: 2-8; Top players: Stephanie Camueiros (jr.); Wendy Ortez (jr.); Jasmin DeLaSierra (jr.); Noteworthy: The team will rely on several multi-sport athletes.
GULLIVER PREP: Carroll Vaughan; Last year; 27-2; Top players: Alexandra Guerra (sr.); Daniella Fuertes (sr.); Andrea Guerra (sr.); Noteworthy: Gulliver figures to be motivated by last year’s loss in the state final.
KROP: Coach: Gayle Steiner / Ann Gordon; Last year: 19-7; Top players: Sydne Vigille (sr.); Amber Lubie (jr.); Victoria Reyes (jr.); Noteworthy: The team is strongest on defense.
MAST ACADEMY: Coach: Alfredo Cancelo; Last year: 13-2; Top players: Cara Mullery; Madison Richards; Angie Varona; Noteworthy: Team aims to defend its district title and go beyond that step.
MIAMI COUNTRY DAY: Coach: Stephanie Ragheb; Last year: 4-16; Top players: Sidney Thomas (sr.); Gabriella Palmisano (fr.); Yakira Matisonn (fr.); Noteworthy: Two of the top three players are freshmen, including Palmisano, the goalie.
NOVA: Coach: Karney McNear; Last year: 6-2; Top players: Aliyah Wakeland (sr.); Maddy Corazza (sr.); Emily Henderson (sr.); Noteworthy: Nova lost three starters from last season.
RANSOM: Coach: Eric Lefebvre; Last year: state champs; Top players: Sofia Rivas (sr.); Sofia Carrera-Justiz (jr.); Claire McDowell (jr.); Noteworthy: Rivas has committed to Cal, and Lucy Grossman is a George Washington University recruit.
SOUTH PLANTATION: Coach: Ben Diaz; Last year: 0-0; Top players: Danielle Rodriguez (jr.); Isabella Mino (jr.); Kyrsten Chen (fr.); Noteworthy: Last year was the first year of the program, and it was just a co-ed team.
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS: Coach: Gary Besbris; Last year: 8-14; Top players: Anna Smith Johnson (sr.); Paloma Schafer (jr.); Demie Maiorano (jr.); Noteworthy: Two of the team’s top five players are freshmen.
WESTMINSTER ACADEMY: Coach: Denise Israels; Last year: 19-6; Top players: Koral LaStella (sr.); Naomi Sanders (so.); Emily Stevenson (sr.); Noteworthy: The team is loaded with seniors, including Victoria Bevill and Mary Mahoney.