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10th title for MI
Boys survive scare in semis, beat Knights in championship
By Matt Phelps
Mercer Island Reporter
Following the cancellation of the San Diego Invitational, the biggest high school water polo tournament in the nation, the Mercer Island boys turned their focus to the state tournament. That focus led the team to its eighth consecutive state title, 10th overall, by defeating Newport 9-6 during the championship game.
“We had great leadership this year and our program is really strong,” said Mercer Island head coach Lauren Ayers. “Our incoming freshman class was really strong this year and it really shows where we can go.”
Mercer Island opened the tournament in dominating fashion with a 15-4 victory over Shorewood.
“We were extremely disappointed (about missing the San Diego Invitational),” said Islander Sam Sussman, who was named Most Valuable Player during the state tournament. “San Diego is our main way to prepare for state. So it felt weird to be in the pool after a long layoff. We were a bit rusty.”
That rust never showed on the scoreboard as the team dismantled Roosevelt 17-3 to close out play on Friday.
The next day, Mercer Island continued to dominate with a 17-2 win against Bainbridge Island and a 19-2 victory against Kentridge. Through the first four games of the weekend, Mercer Island outscored its opponents 68-11. But that scoring edge would change during the semifinal round against Bellevue.
“We were a bit complacent and not focused,” said Islander Ari Wes, about the close 12-11 victory over the Wolverines. “But it put our heads in the right place.”
For the second consecutive year, Mercer Island met Newport in the state final. The contest started slow for the Islanders, as they fell behind early 1-0 and were outshot 5-1 during the first four minutes of the game. But a pass from Quinn Sterling set up Sussman for a bounce shot and the game-tying goal with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
The Islanders took control during the second period as they out-shot Newport 10-4. Sterling found Chris Ferrell in front of the Newport goal for the 2-1 lead. The game became physical as a Newport player dunked freshman Eugene Chong and ripped his cap off. The play led to a penalty shot goal by Sussman and a 3-1 Mercer Island advantage.
Chong got back at the Knights through the scoreboard, with a long goal and then an assist to Ferrell. The Islander lead would be extended to 6-1, the largest of the finals, as Chong found Sussman, who in turn put the ball in the back of the Knight’s net. Newport got one more goal just before the end of the half to make it 6-2.
Newport built off that momentum during the third quarter, pulling to within 6-4 before Islander Kennan Adams scored a crutial goal. But the biggest scoring play of the game came with 10 seconds remaining in the third period. Islander goalkeeper Eric Benca took notice of the clock and flung the ball to the middle of the pool for Sussman, who found Chong for the last second shot and an 8-5 lead. The final period belonged to Benca, who collected four of his nine saves for the game, and Chong added one more goal to put Newport out for good.
“You can’t make a mistake in high school water polo or someone is going to score on you,” said Chong.
Chong was named to the state tournament first team in his first year on varsity along with seniors Sussman and Wes. Quinn Sterling was named to the second team.
The 10 championships overall for Mercer Island puts the school just two behind Puyallup High School all time during nearly 40 years of state tournament play.