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Collins Hill wins second state water polo title in four years

CUMMING -- The last 10 seconds drained slowly off the clock and a few cautious low-fives were exchanged on the deck of the pool.

As the final horn sounded, the rest of the Collins Hill water polo team dived, grinning and shouting, into the water.

The Eagles were back on top, beating upstart Greater Atlanta Christian 10-7 in the championship game Sunday at the Cumming Aquatic Center. Senior captain Will Callander led the way with four goals, but Collins Hill also needed big performances from a number of sources to hold off the Spartans.

After jumping out to a 4-1 lead, courtesy of Callander's first-quarter hat trick, the Eagles' lead dwindled to one goal, 6-5, halfway through the third.

"Unfortunately, we have a tendency to do that," Callander said with a hard-won chuckle. "But I have complete faith in this team. We've all been together so long, we're more than a team, we really are a family.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game. It's a rivalry and the finals. That makes all the difference."

Callander scored his fourth goal at 2:40 of the third to afford Collins Hill slightly more breathing room against a GAC team that didn't even have a winning record last season.

But it was Jesse Frazier who shut the door on the Spartans.

The junior, who spent the last two years on the B team, opened the fourth quarter with a pair of goals. The first came just 18 seconds into the period and the next, which pushed the Eagles' lead to 9-5, was in the net hardly more than a minute later.

"I hadn't scored anything yet so I was definitely determined to go in and do something on the first goal," Frazier said. "The second goal, I went in and he elbowed me. So that was just out of pure spite that I wanted to score on him.

"The one thing, we have such a deep bench and we're so strong throughout that we can go hard the entire time and not give up. Even in the middle when it started to get a little iffy, we had fresh subs all the time. We kept hammering them. As soon as we get a lead or any type of advantage, we exploit that and we just don't give up."

GAC's senior star Kevin Hughes, who was named the Georgia High School Water Polo Association's offensive player of the year, cut the deficit to 9-6 and Brett Kester made it 9-7 with 1:08 left in regulation.

Collins Hill added one final goal by senior Will Veniez with 20.8 seconds remaining and then killed the slowly moving clock.

Brian Collins, the league's coach of the year, managed to avoid getting pushed in by assistant Jenny Weaver -- then pushed Weaver into the water with the wildly celebrating players. Weaver, who helped start this program with Collins four years ago, defied superstition and brought a change of clothes.

The last two years, she did the same and the Eagles finished second. Three years ago, when Collins Hill won the title in its inaugural season, she wasn't expecting it, so didn't have anything to change into after being pushed in the water.

Weaver even had to go back to her house to get the change of clothes Sunday. It proved not to be an omen.

Although it was close.

"Whew," said Collins, grinning widely after the final horn sounded. "To top off an undefeated season was really special. It gets a little nerve-wracking when you have one game to go to finish that out.

"GAC has a great team. They have the best player in the league. Kevin Hughes is awesome. So it's always a challenge to play them. But Jesse Frazier totally broke open that game."

Collins Hill rejoiced in a return to the top of the podium.

"It's very sweet," Callander said. "It's been two years of agony."

Because Callander and Michael Britt served honorably as captains, the team wanted to make sure they went out on top.

"All season, with the captains, the seniors, we said we owe it to them to win it," said junior John Roquet, who was named the league's defensive player of the year.

Roquet, a football player before choosing water polo this season, got the Eagles off to a hot start. Just 40 seconds into the game, Roquet rose up and drilled a shot from way up top. He rifled it just inside the far post and Callander built on that just a few minutes later.

GAC's Hughes answered at 1:43 of the first, burying the first of his four goals from point-blank range.

Callander scored twice in the last 1:10 of the first, including a sizzling one-hopper with 11.4 seconds left, to get the Eagles' their 4-1 margin.

After Hughes cut the gap to 4-2, Britt scored the first of his two goals on an impressive effort down low. With defenders draped all over him, Britt turned and fired it into the back of the net.

"Our gameplan just didn't work today," GAC head coach J.R. McMillan said. "Our goal was to take 40-50 shots -- and we hit that mark, but they just didn't go in. Each side was doing a good job of field blocking on the outside and eliminating chances. I really feel like our players were just off the mark."

McMillan was still proud of his group, whose only two losses this season were to Collins Hill.

Collins knows all too well how the Spartans were feeling after two years as runner-up.

"The first year we weren't expecting to win," Collins said. "This year almost feels more special because there were 18 teams, the field was much deeper this year, so we had to climb more obstacles this season."