Wheeler won its second water polo state championship in three years last weekend, beating Collins Hill 8-4 for the title at the Cumming Aquatic Center.
The Wildcats, who also won the Division I championship in 2017, went 13-0 in the regular season and 3-0 in the playoffs.
“Me and the head coach, Owen Sweitzer -- we’ve been talking about this season for a few years now,” A-team coach Jeff Drews said. “We knew we’d have a lot of kids all peaking as seniors at the same time. We’ve been looking forward to this season.”
Wheeler scored the first three goals of the championship game and then focused on what they do best.
Drews, a former player and national champion at Michigan State, brought a defense-first mentality to Wheeler. With the help of Brian Kent, Gabe Lacasella and goalie Tyler Ward, the Wildcats kept the score low and in their favor the entire game.
“Defense first,” Drews said. “My logic is that, if they can’t score, they can’t win. You play defense and stop them from scoring, it's mentally draining for them, and if you get all these big stops, it leads to counter-attacks and those kinds of goals.”
Ward saved two breakaway chances when Collins Hill started to work its way back into the game.
When Collins Hill pulled within two, Drews called a timeout to make sure his team could answer back.
“In the fourth quarter, Collins Hill scored a goal against us to bring the lead down to two goals,” Drews said. “I call a timeout, create a play for my best player to get a quick goal, and then right back to defense.”
Wheeler played Collins Hill about a month before the championship game. The Wildcats won by four in that game, despite putting together what Drews thought was the team’s worst performance of the year.
“I was feeling pretty good (after that game) that we’re the No. 1 team,” Drews said. “We just had a C-level effort and won the game by four.”
Wheeler breezed through the regular season by winning the majority of their games by at least eight goals. The same happened in the playoffs, leading up to the rematch with Collins Hill in the state championship.
Drews said he thinks as many as five Wildcats may earn all-state recognition, with many repeating from last year.
“After we lost the state semifinal last year, those kids, they put in the effort,” Drews said. “That’s what matters. This season has been building up since the spring, we don’t take a lot of time off.”