Ripley St Thomas Academy made it to the English Schools under 18’s Water Polo National Finals for the first time after winning their national 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 who runs weekly sessions at Ripley.
Ripley started off slow in their first game against Bedford Middle School with Ripley 1-3 down at half time. Ripley was determined not to lose their opening game 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 and Jordon Titley and Dean Akister contributing to the goal tally.
The second game against Warwick School Ripley started quickly with goals from Jordon Titley and Zak Lamb before Warwick replied. Ripley’s only u18 player, James Alker then score 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 this weekend. With one game remaining, Ripley went into the final game as underdogs against a very strong Bolton School team. James Alker opened the scoring with a quick goal in the top right hand corner, giving the goal keeper no chance of saving it, which was added to by Stefano Cossutti who found the back of the net from two meters out with a quick pass from Fen Blesdale. Bolton kept on hitting Ripley hard and Aaron Winstaleny opened the scoring up for Bolton and at half time it was Ripley 2 Bolton 1.
The one goal lead gave the Ripley team some confidence and great defensive work from the Ripley team denied Bolton another goal with some outstanding save from upcoming goalkeeper Owain Llewellyn. Ripley 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. The next attack saw a Bolton player excluded as Zak Lamb worked hard in the pit attack. Ripley took full advantage of the man up in which Dean Akister put the ball in the top corner from the left post and with two minutes to go, Zak Lamb from 6 meters out lobed the Bolton goalkeeper to make it 4 -1.