By David Strickland
The Norcross Blue Devils finished their season in spectacular fashion on Sunday afternoon, defeating second seeded St. Pius in a very close game, 7-5.
The final win capped an undefeated season and delivered Norcross’ first state water polo title since the program was started four years ago.
In addition the Division 2 Blue Devils team also completed the regular season as the sole undefeated team in their division finishing in first place and earning an 11th seed for the tournament.
After winning all but one game in the tournament, the Division 2 team finished in 9th place capping a tremendous season, setting the stage for continued strength next year.
Norcross coaches, Carlos Santini and Matt Roberts, were honored themselves, receiving co-coaches of the year prior to the final two games being played. The state tournament was held at the Cumming Aquatic Center.
The Blue Devils championship team was predominately seniors, most of whom joined the team in its 2010 inaugural year as freshmen.
Ian Bagent, Travis Bruce, Brandon Cunningham, Patrick Gaddis, Mark Gross, Nick Hoover, Sam Medinger, Chandler Schaefer, John David Strickland, and Alex Ullrich. Roundng out the division 1 champs were underclassmen Jake Einig, Robert Pope, and Eric Strickland.
The club was started four years ago by Norcross parent, Lisa Bruce, whose son, Travis, then a freshman, was one of the seniors on the championship team.
“These kids, with their swimming experience, plus other contact sports in their background, have really taken to this sport," said Bruce. "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 to me,” added Bruce.
One of Lisa Bruce's first moves four years ago was getting a hold of Carlos Santini. Carlos played on the Puerto Rican National Water Polo team in his youth and still plays today in a masters program out of Dynamo Swim Club in Chamblee.
“These kids are like family to me,” said Santini. “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.”
Matt Roberts joined the program last year when the Blue Devils fielded three teams in the league. Roberts has also grown up in water polo playing at Arizona and on US National teams.
This year, Roberts and Santini have shared the coaching duties between the two teams. In addition, Roberts' son, Logan, was the goalie for the Division 2 team this year and was named goalie of the year for Division 2.
"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 Roberts. "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 a 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 part of this team."
Individual honors were given to several players on both Blue Devil teams.
Division 1 All-league: First Team: Ian Bagent, Mark Gross and Alex Ullrich.
Second Team: John David Strickland.
Division 1 Goalie of the Year: Alex Ullrich.
Division 2: All-league: First Team: Tommy Reifenberger, Logan Roberts, and Ricky Wilson.
Second Team: Blake Ryland.
Division 2 Goalie of the Year: Logan Roberts
Division 2 Defensive Player of the Year: Blake Ryland
The All-Star games will be played Tuesday October 15th starting at 6 p.m. at GAC.
Named to Division 1 team: Ian Bagent, Mark Gross, John David Strickland, and Alex Ullrich.
Named to Division 2 team: Tommy Reifenberger, Logan Roberts, Blake Ryland, and Ricky Wilson.