Sumner High’s MichaelAnn Wilson just had one summer she’ll never forget.
The junior’s club water polo team, the Puget Sound Polo Pirates, just finished competing at the 2015 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics in Orange County, California.
Wilson hasn’t been playing water polo for long, but during that span she has found herself.
“I’ve played basketball since middle school, and I’ve been swimming since I was little,” she said. “(Water polo) was like combining my two favorite sports. I decided to quit basketball so I have more time playing polo with my club team.”
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Now that Wilson is about to begin her high school water polo season next month, she took the time to reflect on a summer that has motivated her to become the defender the Spartans need.
“I’m too good of a swimmer to protect the goal,” Wilson said. “I can do more swimming around and protecting the goal … my main thing is to protect my girl, I guess.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Wilson and the Pirates this summer. Here in the Northwest, the team has done really well over the course of the summer, putting up wins in Oregon in June.
But the USA National tournament was another element of the sport Wilson had not seen before. In the Northwest, water polo is a growing sport, just finding life; it is not sanctioned by Washington Interscholastic Activities Association at the high-school level. But there are some places throughout the country that breathe this sport.
The majority of the 84 teams that participated in the Junior Olympics came from California — a state that lives for the sport.
“Those California teams were tough … they were really, really good,” Wilson said. “They have girls on their teams that live the sport. There are players who play water polo year-round — it was intimidating.”
Whether or not Wilson and the Pirates were intimidated, it didn’t matter. The team fought to a 48th-place finish out of 84 teams in the 16U division.
But this was about an experience not many girls are gifted.
Wilson has always been in the pool, but for swimming, not water polo. As a fluid swimmer, she takes on many jobs for Sumner, trying to propel the Spartans to a win. But for the Pirates, it’s all about how she protects her team.
“In basketball, you can have someone take over and win it for their team. Even if you’re a really good scorer, you can’t win it for your team like you could (in) basketball,” Wilson said. “You have to play together … especially with us as a stronger defensive team. We had to work together to score.”
Defense wins — period.
At least that’s the thought process behind Wilson’s game, one that is about protecting her team. As a former basketball player, Wilson understands her roll: to protect the team.
When an opposing team is good at scoring, like many of the California teams were, it’s crucial to have a defender like Wilson. Defense has become the pride of Wilson’s game, as her swimming skills allow her to glide through the water to stop a potential shot being attempted or making a steal to set her team up on offense.
“It feels great being able to get your team’s offense going. It makes you want to make the next defensive play to help them out,” she said.