Ripley St Thomas Academy made it to the English Schools under 18’s Water Polo National Finals for the first time after winning their semi-final in Walsall last weekend, beating a strong Bolton side in the process.
The Ripley team, which was made up of all but one under 16 pupils, are all members of Lancaster City Swimming and Water Polo Club and coached by Zak Sly.
Ripley started off slowly in their first game against Bedford Middle School and were 3-1 down at half time.
The Lancaster school were determined not to lose their opening game though and worked hard for a 4-4 draw in a game in which they were unlucky not to win.
Some quick swimming from Joe Hitchmough contributed well to the Ripley team along with two goals from Zak Lamb, Jordon Titley and Dean Akister contributing to the goal tally.
In the second game against Warwick School Ripley started quickly with goals from Titley and Lamb before Warwick replied.
Ripley’s only u18 player, James Alker, then scored to make it 3-1 before Warwick replied again with ten seconds to go to make the final score 3-2 to Ripley.
The result meant that Ripley finished top of their group and qualified for the national finals for the first time.
With one game remaining, Ripley went into the final match as underdogs against a very strong Bolton School team.
Alker opened the scoring with a quick goal in the top-right-hand corner, giving the goalkeeper no chance of saving it, which was added to by Stefano Cossutti who found the back of the net from two metres out.
Bolton kept on hitting Ripley hard and Aaron Winstaleny opened the scoring up for Bolton and at half time Ripley led 2-1.
The one-goal lead gave the Ripley team some confidence and some great defensive work denied Bolton another goal with some outstanding saves from upcoming goalkeeper Owain Llewellyn.
Ripley’s youngest player, 14-year-old Harry Palin, made a good contribution to the Ripley defence, with Dean Akister working hard in the pit and stopping Bolton from scoring.
Ripley then took full advantage of a man up situation and Dean Akister put the ball in to the top corner and with two minutes to go Lamb, from six metres out, lobbed the Bolton goalkeeper to make it 4 -1.
Ripley finished as overall winners and will take on another five schools in the National Finals on Saturday, March 10 at Walsall Gala Baths.