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Boys Water Polo Finishes Season in Hard-Fought Battle With State-Contender Dawson

By Joe Barber, 10/16/23, 11:34PM CDT


vs. Bridgeland

After losing a coin flip with Memorial last week to determine 2nd place for District (Strake firmly claimed 1st), the mighty Spartans began their quest for a State Championship this past Tuesday against Bridgeland at the Cy Fair Natatorium as the number 3 seed from our District. Six Seniors led their final quest for the elusive State title.

The Spartans came out aggressively firing shots on goal but it would take 4 minutes into the first quarter before Luke Barber was finally able to get a ball in the back of the net to give the Spartans a 1-0 lead. Fortunately, the Spartan defense, led by goalkeeper Andy Zhuri, was able to keep Bridgeland off the board as well. With :56 seconds left in the period, Nathan Moss was able to stick one in to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead, which they would hold to the end of the period. For the period, the Spartans had 10 shots on goal which was a highwater mark for the year.

They would come out firing again in the second quarter, and this time they would have a lot more success with 5 of their 8 shots finding the net. Austin Chao led the barrage with 3 goals in a row in a 1:35 span that pushed the Spartan lead to 5-0. Luke Barber would add two more goals in the last 1:30 as the Spartans cruised to a 7-0 lead at halftime as Andy Zhuri and the rest of the defense pitched a first half shutout.

Bridgeland would score the first goal of the 2nd half, but the Spartans would then score the next 4 goals to take an 11-1 lead. Julian Hemmer and Brock Hunter each got into the scoring column, while Luke Barber added 2 more goals that period.

The 4th quarter would see Spartans call off the attack and coast to an 11–4 final. Andy Zhuri was brilliant throughout and the defensive effort from everyone really just overwhelmed the boys from Bridgeland.

vs. Dawson

The State Title quest would continue this past Friday night as Stratford hosted the men from Pearland – Dawson. Dawson has been a top team in the State for the past four years, thanks to a solid 9-man senior class so the boys from Stratford knew they would have their hands full. Dawson came out quickly firing and scored :15 seconds into the match to put Stratford on their heels. The Spartans would try to answer but just could not find the back of the net due to some outstanding play by the Dawson goalkeeper. Dawson would score a second goal just before the halfway point of the quarter and would add a third goal less than a minute later to go up 3-0. That was a real gut-check moment for the Spartans who dug deep and decided to fight back rather than roll over. Marin Pavlin fired home a great shot with 2:34 to go to let Dawson know that Stratford would not be giving up. Luke Barber would then quickly strike again for the Spartans less than :30 seconds later to cut the Dawson lead to 3-2. Unfortunately, a costly Spartan defensive lapse with :23 seconds left gave Dawson a 4th goal and it once again did not look good for the Spartans. However, Luke Barber would fire one home just as the buzzer sounded and the Spartans would finish the quarter only trailing by one, down 4-3. Along the way, Andy Zhuri had 3 tremendous saves including a block of a 5-meter free shot in the quarter and really had the Dawson team frustrated.

Dawson would come out motivated to start the second period and scored another quick goal to extend their lead to 2. The Spartans would then have two defensive lapses that resulted in easy, point-blank goals for Dawson. But again, the Spartans would not go down without a fight as Andy Zhuri continued his heroic performance with another stop of a 5-meter free shot and several more blocks of point-blank shots by Dawson. With :23 seconds left, Dawson would add their 4th goal of the period and it did not look good. However, Luke Barber repeated his quarter-ending heroics by firing home a goal with :03 seconds left to help Stratford salvage a little momentum heading into halftime only down 8-4 to the tough Dawson squad.

The third quarter would see more outstanding goalie play from Zhuri to keep the Spartans close. Dawson would score 2 goals and appear to be pulling away before Josh Rebollar had a great hustle play to get a goal for the Spartans that was then followed up by a Luke Barber goal to narrow the gap back to 4 goals at 10-6. Unfortunately, Dawson would sneak out one final goal in the period and take an 11-6 lead into the final period.

The Spartans once again showed their resilience and came out firing in the 4th quarter. Luke Barber would get the first goal of the period less than 2 minutes in, and it looked like the Spartans might have a rally in them down 11-7. However, that would prove to be the Spartans' final goal, and Dawson would go on to score two more goals and close out the Spartans' season with a 13-7 victory.

The entire team really played their heart out with the Senior Captains Andy Zhuri and Luke Barber leading the way. The boys were clearly spent emotionally and physically but they also knew that they gave their best and left the pool for the final time with their heads held high.

Overall, it was a great season for the entire team and Coach McCommons and this senior class have laid the groundwork for the program to continue its rebound and to reach even greater heights in the future. Congrats to all the boys and especially this Senior Class for a great 4-year run that included making the post-season every year and a 4th place State finish their sophomore year.