The next coach of the Gig Harbor High School boys water polo team is a familiar face within the program. Four-year varsity standout and Gig Harbor High School graduate Julia Ponce will be taking over the Tides’ program in the fall.
Ponce, who just graduated from Fresno Pacific University in May, was Gig Harbor’s top player for several years during her time as an attacker in high school.
Fresno Pacific is where her passion for coaching was sparked.
“I had such great coaches and mentors,” Ponce said. “It was such fun playing at the collegiate level. I wanted to take it back to the Gig Harbor area and grow something of a little more caliber.”
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The girls program has been the state’s top program over the past decade, winning multiple state championships. The boys program is newer and isn’t yet as dominant, although progress has been made in the recent past.
Ponce has already been wearing a coaching hat with Gig Harbor. She helped as an assistant for Mike Kelly’s girls polo team when she was home for summer breaks, as well as helping with the Narrows Water Polo and Narrows Swim clubs.
She credits her former high school, Kelly, with helping her transition and building a foundation as a player and coach.
“Mike mentored me through this,” Ponce said. “I’m very grateful for everything he has given me. He has allowed me to explore the coaching world.”
Ponce, who graduated with a degree in liberal studies from Fresno Pacific, hopes to be a teacher in the Peninsula School District at some point in the near future. For now, she’s excited to get the ball rolling with a coaching position in the district.
“A big thing for me, I’m excited to build a team and start a new culture for this program and for Gig Harbor High School," she said. "Coming in as a new coach, there’s going to be a lot to accomplish. I want to take it step by step. There’s a lot of potential for the boys team.”
With the girls program, Kelly has developed a reputation for hard-work, conditioning and an emphasis on teamwork and fundamentals. Expect something similar with Ponce.
“Just a hard work and dedication to wanting to get better,” Ponce said. “My philosophy is that we not only want to grow as a team, we want each individual to be able to take away something from this program. Learning discipline, having responsibility and never quitting.”
For Ponce, it’s important that the program is built with everyone feeling like they’re a contributor, and not just relying on one or two star players.
“Everyone will have an impact,” Ponce said. “That understanding will take this program to the next level: that everyone has an impact and will be bringing something to the table. We will just need to get on the same page of what that will be. Hard work, showing up to practice, being on time.”
Ponce also said she wants to incorporate weight lifting more into the program.
“Building strength outside the water will help us,” Ponce said. “Every one of my athletes will be getting time in the gym. We’re going to try to accomplish as much as we can.”
And above all else, Ponce wants the boys in the program to be represent and serve the Gig Harbor community well.
“We want to win games and work in the community,” she said. “The ultimate hope in year one is to build a strong program, work hard in the pool and engage in community service projects.”