The Gig Harbor High School girls water polo team has won six out of the past seven state titles, the only lapse coming in 2013, when the Tides finished second to the Curtis Vikings.
While nothing is guaranteed, Gig Harbor looks like a strong bet to take home another first-place trophy again this season.
Gig Harbor returns All-American goal-scorer Alana Ponce and All-American goalie Olivia Lott, as well as a host of other exciting and experienced players on this year’s squad.
“The senior class has a three-year record of 73-2, including three state titles,” said Gig Harbor coach Mike Kelly. “We have real strong leadership at the top. We have a couple juniors and a really big sophomore class with a lot of talent that will be ready to showcase it.”
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One of the senior leaders is captain Kelli Craft, who came in as a wide-eyed freshman on the swim team and had never played water polo prior.
“I couldn’t shoot the ball from five meters out when I was a freshman,” Craft said. “It’s definitely day and night.”
Craft, along with the rest of the time, has not tired of winning. The Tides appear just as hungry as ever to add another state title to the collection.
“We’re really hungry,” she said. “Our senior class, especially, if we in state this year, that’s the first time we’ve won four years in a row. It’s a lot of pressure for us to win this year. We want it.”
As always with Kelly, the winning is the result of intense practices.
There’s a mentality here of working hard and playing hard. The wins and losses, they’ll come with the work. These girls have been part of that successful culture for the last ten years. They don’t like to lose. They don’t like ties. They work to win.
Mike Kelly, Gig Harbor coach
“They work out three-plus hours a day, six days a week,” Kelly said. “There’s a mentality here of working hard and playing hard. The wins and losses, they’ll come with the work. These girls have been part of that successful culture for the last ten years. They don’t like to lose. They don’t like ties. They work to win.”
Gig Harbor’s most likely adversary standing in the way is a familiar one — the Curtis Vikings, who have been vying with the Tides for the state’s top spot for quite some time now. Craft said she expects the team to improve through the season and be ready when the state tournament rolls around.
“I think we’re definitely pretty solid this year,” Craft said. “During the beginning of the season, there are some rough patches. But we’ve always progressed and stepped up.”
Craft said the program’s success comes from the culture Kelly has established.
“I think we all respect Mike a lot,” Craft said. “He really wants us to succeed. He wanted to win as badly as we do. That pushes us. We push each other. He wants us to be successful in and out of the pool. I think that’s a big motivator for all of us to work hard.”
With the team’s propensity to motivate each player to work hard, Craft thinks the results will take care of themselves.
“I think we’ll be successful,” she said. “I have faith in my teammates and I think that we’ll be alright. We work hard. That usually pays off.”
Gig Harbor opens its home season with a matchup against South Kitsap on March 21 at 3:30 p.m. at the Gig Harbor High School pool. The Tides travel to Curtis on April 12 to face the Vikings at 7:15 in University Place in what should be an excellent barometer for Gig Harbor.