Growing up in the Bay Area, water polo was a pretty big deal for the Ponce family. Gig Harbor High School sophomore Alana Ponce estimates her first time playing the sport was when she was about 5 years old. Her oldest sister, Elise, would bring her along to practice — per their parents’ request.
The Ponces eventually moved north to Gig Harbor. Last year, middle sister Julia, a then-senior, and Alana, a then-freshman, combined to give the Tides a powerful one-two punch that landed the Gig Harbor program its fourth state title in the past five years.
"It’s sad for me because getting really close to (Julia) last year and playing with this team and her was really fun," said Alana, now a sophomore. "But I know I can make it up to her by playing as well as I can. She’s just a really good person. She taught me to always work hard and she always believed in me. It was easy to get through things when she was her. She taught me how to be strong."
Even as a freshman, Ponce was one of the team’s premiere players. In the state championship game against Curtis with only a few seconds to go in the first half, Julia told her younger sister to take the shot. Alana launched the ball from half-pool and nailed it.
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"That was definitely a rush," Ponce said. "I didn’t think I was going to make that."
For the Tides water polo program, anything less than a state title at this point is a bit underwhelming. This year’s expectations are no different.
"I definitely think we can do it again this year," Ponce said. "Especially with the seniors we have, they’re just really good role models. What they really want out of this year is teamwork and just building up to a state title again."
Gig Harbor coach Mike Kelly shared the same view.
"We do have high expectations, yes," Kelly said. "We lost some good personnel. We had a solid undergrad group last year. We’re probably going to be as good, if not better than last year’s team."
Besides Ponce, the Tides also return All-American senior Emma Campbell and senior Sarah Anderson. Senior Laura Soares and sophomore Olivia Lott are still competing for the starting goalie job, according to Kelly.
"It’s a tossup," Kelly said. "Neither one has really set a benchmark; they’re pretty equivalent. Someone has got to show us a little bit extra. That’s a beautiful problem to have. It’s nice they can both come into a game and be ready to play at a level."
Ponce has diversified her training as well. Despite not being a competitive swimmer growing up, Ponce flashed her athletic ability in last fall’s district swim meet, taking the 100-yard backstroke title.
"It helps a lot to be faster," Ponce said. "During club season, it was just easier to keep up with people."
Ponce said she’s working on her strength, also.
"When I go play down in California with other club teams, I just get beat up," she said. "I’ve been working on lifting weights and building more muscle instead of just sitting around.”
The Tides are off to a hot start, beating Bellevue, Newport and Curtis in the season-opening jamboree.