Like a student receiving a surprisingly good grade on a test, Billy Whidden was wide-eyed.
Reaching the state water polo tournament for the first time can do that.
"I had to do a double-take every once in a while [and ask], 'Is this really happening?'" Whidden said.
Winter Park's Ashley Tobin could say the same thing after a career that began when she was not selected to attend a tournament in Chicago.
"It really put into perspective how much better people were and how much work they put in," Tobin said. "I wanted to get better, make that trip and get to a higher level."
Whidden and Tobin, the All-Central Florida players of the year, stood out in different ways. Whidden, a goalie, broke the state record with 18 saves as Olympia (20-8) lost 14-8 to Cooper City in a state quarterfinal. Tobin, who made the trip to Chicago this season and led the Wildcats (21-4) to the state tournament, posted a team-high 92 goals.
Tobin was exposed to water polo when her older sister, Nicole, started playing as a freshman. Ashley barely could swim at first.
"She wanted to learn," said Nicole, a junior at Maryland. "I loved seeing her take her own spin on the [hole-set] position and the team. She wasn't overshadowed.
"She made it her own and became her own superstar."
Said Winter Park coach Barry Creighton: "It's the best thing about coaching. Championships are great, but you don't get there without kids that work hard and improve.''
Although Tobin took time to adjust, Whidden, a senior, was a natural. Olympia coach Stephanie Johnson-Possell placed him in goal and gave him opportunities as a freshman.
Since then, Whidden has matured and led a team this season that had three starters completely new to water polo.
"He directs traffic," Johnson-Possell said. "He is the air-traffic controller of our defense.''
The Titans tried to reward Whidden on senior night by giving him a chance to score. It did not work out as intended.
"Instead of Billy taking the time to score, he was passing the ball to B.J. Smith,'' Johnson-Possell said. "[Smith] was very close to tying the all-time scoring record for us.''
Smith broke the record with 117 goals, another highlight to Olympia's season.
While Olympia reached the boys state tournament for the first time, Winter Park has done it nine times. The Wildcats were eliminated by eventual state champion Gulliver Prep in the semifinals.
Tobin tries to help younger players just as older players like her sister advised her.
"They asked the same questions I did as a freshman," said Tobin, a senior who will attend Mississippi. "Where to turn my wrists when I shoot, how to tread water.
"Everyone has to ask because if you don't ask, you'll never know."Copyright © 2015, CT Now