The Golden Lions topped archrival and defending champ Collins Hill 5-4 to claim the 2012 Georgia High School Water Polo Association championship.
Junior Rafael Garcia scored the go-ahead goal with 1:45 left to play to give St. Pius its fourth title in the sanctioning organization’s six-year history.
The team’s leading scorers on the season, juniors Josh Chatfield and Zach Halbig, were true to form pacing the Lions with two goals apiece. The pair along with teammates Sam Beckwith, Cecilia Probst and Charles Quinn earned All-Star honors this season.
The outcome of the title game was a rewarding conclusion to a hard-fought 2012 campaign for the well-traveled victors.
“We started off [the season] slow, but we really grew as a team by the end of the year,” said Chatfield. “We came in third at the Powerbar Cup, won two out of our three games at a competitive tournament in Baltimore — the most wins there ever — and we finished as the No. 1 team for the regular season before winning the state championship.
“All in all, I thought we grew physically and mentally, and we accomplished our goal.”
Water polo is an up and coming sport in the state — a development made possible in part by the St. Pius program’s outreach efforts to fledgling teams.
The GHSWPA has expanded from four founding schools to 20 teams from 16 different schools.
As participation grows, competition gets more formidable.
“At this point, any one of the top four teams could have won and would have been deserving champions,” said the Lions’ assistant coach, Father Dan Rogaczewski. “That speaks well to the work of the coaches and the athletes.”
Look for the Lions to be at or near the top for at least another season.
While losing two-time goalie of the year Beckwith to graduation will be tough, the junior-laden squad does not figure to blink.
“My expectations are largely what we accomplished this year,” said Chatfield. "Obviously, we are losing my co-captain, Sam Beckwith, and he was a very big part of our team.
"However, I expect some of our starters to step it up on both the offensive and defensive ends so as not to so heavily rely on our goalie. Next year I want to win the Powerbar Cup and the state championship ..."