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For the second consecutive year, Belen Jesuit captured the FHSAA Water Polo State Championship Saturday at Ransom Everglades.

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The undefeated Wolverines, trailing at the half, rallied for a hard-fought 10-7 victory over St. Thomas Aquinas, making its fifth consecutive state final appearance.

It was the third state title in the program’s history and second straight year the Wolverines have defeated the Raiders (21-7) in the final for the boys’ crown. The Wolverines are 53-1 over two seasons.

“We knew no game was going to be easy,” said junior Pablo Kurzan. “The seniors rallied us. We didn’t want to lose. We kept telling each other leave everything in the pool.”

With only four starters off last year’s state champion, the Wolverines were looking at a rebuilding season and daunting challenge to win back-to-back titles.

“At the beginning of the season we had lost our two best stars and thought it would be a rebuilding year,” Kurzan said. “We didn’t think we would get that far. But the whole team worked hard and we finally made it here. We kept winning and going for more. It wasn’t easy. We had some tough games against Ransom Everglades and St. Andrew’s and today’s game was teeth-clinching.”

The Raiders, with three freshmen in the starting lineup, led 4-3 at halftime before the Wolverines took control in the second half.

Despite being a coach down when assistant Lazaro Fernandez-Bueno was red-carded just before halftime, Belen Jesuit overtook the lead, 6-4, in the third quarter behind workhorse Federico Tamborrel, who scored his team’s last four goals.

“As soon as I walked in, I knew we were going to win,” Tamborrel said. “I saw it on my team’s faces. I knew we were going to give it our all. The first two quarters we were playing really tired but in that second half, we all just rallied together as a team. We had the motivation and power to come through. We left everything in the pool. I’m glad the seniors went out with a win.”

Tamborrel scored back-to-back goals to give the Wolverines an 8-5 lead in the third quarter. The Raiders cut the lead to one with goals from freshman Jacob Harkins and junior James Burnette. Tamborrel scored two more goals late in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

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“The coaches we have are by far the best in the state and country,” Tamborrel said. “This team is the best team in the state and one of the best in the country I dare to say. Last season was the beginning and our success will continue.”

No one was more emotional after the game than Belen Jesuit head coach Jimmy Aguilera.

“I am very happy for the team, it was an entire team victory,” Aguilera said. “I am very proud of the time and effort they dedicated. It is a very emotional win for me. Everyone played like champions.”

“I am very proud of beating great teams like Ransom-Everglades, St. Andrew’s and St. Thomas who have been our nemesis. We didn’t have the ideal conditions to practice and it was hard throughout the year but we were prepared for the difficult road ahead.”

Belen Jesuit advanced into the final with an 8-7 thriller over Boca Raton St. Andrew’s when Kurzan scored the winning goal with 31 seconds left in the game.

“We were super tired after that game but we had enough left for the final,” Kurzan said. “We kept each other going.”

It was the third time this season the Wolverines had defeated the Scots and third time in five years in the state semifinals.

“Friday’s game was important,” Kurzan said. “I told the team we needed to give it our all and we couldn’t let down. That it wasn’t finals and we had to look at the bigger picture and that was winning the state title. We didn’t want to let anyone down. We wanted to bring it back to the school.”

Flying L’s Fall Short

Fort Lauderdale High, making its state tournament debut, was eliminated by St. Thomas Aquinas, 17-4, in the quarterfinals behind four goals each by Parker Strickman and Robert Schulte. St. Andrew’s defeated Lake Nona, 14-4. After a weather delay, the Raiders went on to defeat Winter Park, 8-3, to advance to the final.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our team,” said Fort Lauderdale coach Deb Cavanaugh after her final high school game.

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Cavanaugh told her team earlier this season that this would be her last year coaching swimming and water polo. Her assistant coach Carrie Basye-Becker is expected to take over the program.

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