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Eagles set to defend water polo title

Photo: Scott Karlins Collins Hill's girls water polo team celebrates winning the state championship on Sunday at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center. It was the first season for all-girls water polo competition.

Photo: Scott Karlins Collins Hill's girls water polo team celebrates winning the state championship on Sunday at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center. It was the first season for all-girls water polo competition.

Collins Hill quickly established itself as a power in water polo when it first fielded a team five years ago.

The Eagles won the state championship that season and have played in the finals every year since. They won it all again last season, after twice finishing runner-up, and capped an undefeated run with a title.

The team has its sights set on adding to that already rich tradition this weekend. The No. 2 seeded Eagles play Saturday in the quarterfinals with the semis and title game set for Sunday at the Cumming Aquatic Center.

"We're pretty confident going into the quarterfinal," head coach Brian Collins said. "The highest ranked team we could play would be seventh.

"For the semis and going into the final, it's going to be really close. The top five teams all played really close games during the season. It's probably tighter than it's ever been in terms of parity."

The co-ed team would like to follow up on what the girls did a few days ago.

Once again, in its first season of competition, Collins Hill's girls team claimed the championship. This is the first year the league had all-girls teams and the Eagles beat Lakeside 6-3 for the title Sunday at the West Gwinnett Aquatic Center.

Collins Hill led 1-0 and 2-1 on goals by co-captain Brooke Phillips and Cydney Torres. Lakeside tied it each time and took a 3-2 lead at the start of the third quarter.

But Becky Bass tied it and Bria Williams gave the Eagles the lead for good during a 6-on-5 advantage.

Bass put it away with two more goals in the third.

Torres also won three of the four sprints to gain ball possession at the start of each quarter.

"And she just missed the fourth one," Collins said. "She did really well there."

Goalie Emma Koenig blocked eight of the 11 shots Lakeside took and Lennox Balog, normally one of the team's most effective offensive threats, buckled down and played excellent defense. Also keeping Lakeside at bay were seniors Cydney Karlins and Mila Talbi.

"We won all our regular season games and beat (Lakeside) twice," Collins said. "But it's always nerve-racking.

"The girls were definitely nervous. They had a shaky first quarter and then settled down."

Several of the girls will see time in the co-ed state tournament this weekend, including Bass.

The Eagles lost for the first time in two years this season, falling to St. Pius at the Powerbar Tournament in August. But they've won all their games since and are looking to continue their string of finals appearances.

Collins Hill will rely on seniors John Roquet and Jesse Frazier, who each had goals in last year's championship win. They rank first and second in goals for the team. Philip Jenny does some of everything for the Eagles. The sophomore ranks among the top three in goals, steals, blocks and is the team's assist leader.

The defense is anchored by goalie Kail Howell.

"His percentage is over 70 percent in blocking shots on goal and he's really stepped up, especially in the close games," Collins said. "The team has done really well this season overall. We're hoping we can repeat our history."

The semifinals are set for noon Sunday with the finals at 5 p.m.