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Norcross team wins water polo state title

Members of the Norcross water polo team celebrate their state championship.

Members of the Norcross water polo team celebrate their state championship.

The inaugural members of Norcross’ high school club water polo team, now seniors, got a final reward on Sunday.

The Blue Devils completed an undefeated season with the four-year-old program’s first Georgia High School Water Polo Association state championship, defeating St. Pius 7-5 in the finals. Their 13-player roster features 10 seniors, most who joined the brand-new program for the first season in 2010.

Norcross parent Lisa Bruce started the first team and was instrumental in building the coaching staff of Carlos Santini and Matt Roberts, who were GHSWPA co-coaches of the year this season.

“These kids, with their swimming experience, plus other contact sports in their background, have really taken to this sport,” Bruce said. “It’s been so rewarding to see how fast the interest and intensity of our kids has picked up. To come this far in four years and also have such a strong second division team in the wings to keep the momentum going is just great. But most of all the friendships and memories the seniors have forged have been the most rewarding for me.”

Ian Bagent, Travis Bruce, Brandon Cunningham, Patrick Gaddis, Mark Gross, Nick Hoover, Sam Medinger, Chandler Schaefer, John David Strickland and Alex Ullrich make up the Norcross senior class. The championship team also featured underclassmen Jake Einig, Robert Pope and Eric Strickland.

Bagent, Gross and Ullrich earned first-team all-league honors, while Ullrich also was named goalie of the year. Strickland was a second-team all-league pick.

“These kids are like family to me,” said Santini, a former Puerto Rican National Team player as a youth. “Working with these guys from four years ago and seeing them progress to this level makes me very proud and happy. And they have instilled a love of the game and great work ethic into the younger kids that will allow us to continue to build our program here and to advance water polo as a sport in Georgia.”

Norcross’ Division II team was the sole undefeated team in its class as well, earning a No. 11 seed for the tournament. It placed ninth in the season-ending event, led by first-team selections Tommy Reifenberger, Logan Roberts (goalie of the year) and Ricky Wilson, as well as second-teamer (and defensive player of the year) Blake Ryland.

“When I met with the team before our first practice this year, we outlined our mission and the goals we wanted to accomplish this season,” said Matt Roberts, who grew up playing water polo in Arizona and on U.S. National Teams. “Everything we accomplished this year flowed out of that first meeting. Our goals included going undefeated, winning state, playing with class, having fun and being a team that was like family. I have never been a part of a team that was so focused on their mission and goals. We accomplished everything we set out to do. I’m honored to have been a part of this team.”