Build it … and they will win.
For the first time since Belen Jesuit built the Gian Zumpano Aquatic Center in 2018, the Wolverines are state champions in water polo.
Belen, which hosted the state championships for the second straight year, came away with the title on Saturday afternoon, defeating Orlando’s Dr. Phillips, 17-13, in a battle of unbeatens.
The Wolverines (20-0) won their fourth water polo title overall, and their first since 2016. This was also the third Belen team to win a state title this school year, joining cross-country and soccer.
When it was all over on Saturday, the Belen water polo team was joined in the water by a group of about 40 of the school’s seniors, who were in street clothes but dove in to celebrate anyway.
Belen coach Jimmy Aguilera also jumped in, fulfilling a vow.
“That was premeditated,” Aguilera said in Spanish. “They made me promise that if we won state I would do a dance and I would jump in the water.”
Belen was led by the Veccio twins, both of whom are seniors. Carlos Veccio scored a game-high nine goals, and he made his case for Florida Player of the Year.
“It was all about teamwork,” said Veccio, deflecting credit.
Dylan Veccio added four goals, and Belen goalie Bryan Weglarz – who is just a junior – was spectacular with nine saves.
“Amazing; great players,” Dr. Phillips Panthers coach Leonardo Leon Ramirez said when asked about the twins. “They never give up on any balls, and they seemed like they were in the middle of every play.
“We thought we could get some goals past (Weglarz). But give him credit. He made some huge saves.”
The Panthers, who have never won state, had a great season but came up short, finishing 30-1.
Dr. Phillips was led by senior Sole Fratila, an Iona recruit who scored a team-high five goals.
Belen trailed just once – at 2-1 in the first period. But the Wolverines rallied quickly and led 4-2 at the end of the first period.
The Wolverines then scored the final three goals in the second period, taking a 9-5 advantage into halftime.
That hot streak continued in the third period as Belen scored the first four goals to take a 13-5 lead, and the game was virtually over at that point.
Aguilera, who played water polo for the Cuban national team from 1989 to 1995, said Belen’s players followed Saturday’s game plan perfectly.
“We played with a lot of defensive discipline,” Aguilera said. “We played much better than we did (in Friday’s 16-14 win over Oviedo).”
Aguilera said Belen’s aquatic center has allowed for huge improvements in the program.
“Prior to that, we didn’t have an adequate training facility,” he said. “Now, we have 60 to 65 players in the program. From that group, we can choose the best players for varsity.
“The aquatic center helps us in every aspect of our preparation.”