Gateway: Sports

Gig Harbor girls water polo wins 6th state title in 7 years

Gig Harbor’s Kenzie Bailey pulls up to shoot during the girls high school water polo state championship game Saturday against Curtis at Curtis High School.
Gig Harbor’s Kenzie Bailey pulls up to shoot during the girls high school water polo state championship game Saturday against Curtis at Curtis High School. jbessex@gateline.com

The Gig Harbor girls water polo team won its sixth state title in the past seven years over the weekend against Curtis High School with a 7-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd at Curtis Aquatic Center.

The Tides held a 3-2 lead at the half and ran away with the game in the second half, shutting the Vikings out and adding four goals in the third quarter to seal the win.

“It was a really fun season watching the girls grow and develop,” said Gig Harbor coach Mike Kelly, who has built the most dominant program in the state. “We lost eight people from (last year’s) roster, so we figured it was going to be a tougher year. Everything worked out in the end. Saturday night was what we were hoping for all season: To all play on the same page, played a united game. We had some real lock-down defense, lots of offensive opportunities. It was good.”

Gig Harbor junior Alana Ponce, who set new school records in career goals scored (135) and steals (151), was named the tournament’s most valuable player. Ponce led the team with four goals in the championship game, including an early goal on a sprint within the first 20 seconds of the game. While Ponce acknowledged it was fun to win another title, she said the best part of the game was the atmosphere.

The energy you get from the whole crowd, that’s the fun part.

Alana Ponce, state tournament MVP

“The energy you get from the whole crowd, that’s the fun part,” she said. “I don’t think it’s really winning or losing. It’s the energy and the adrenaline you get from it.”

The previous school record was set by Alana’s older sister, Julia. Alana shattered it by more than 30 goals.

“She’s been able to dish the ball off to other teammates in the past,” Kelly said. “This year, we knew she had to step up her offensive contribution. She had a lot more shots on goals and goals this season. She had an incredible year, offensively. It was easy to recognize her as the MVP of the tournament — she was head and shoulders above any other player.”

Kelly said he still enjoys winning each state title as much as the last.

It’s like baking a cake. You have different ingredients each year that you use, and you try to get the same outcome. Winning never gets boring.

Mike Kelly, Gig Harbor coach

“It’s like baking a cake,” he said. “You have different ingredients each year that you use, and you try to get the same outcome. Winning never gets boring.”

Gig Harbor senior Lindsey Moon added two goals for the Tides, while Sierra Coalson scored once. Gig Harbor finishes the season with a 25-1 record. The only loss came earlier in the season to Curtis.

“I think we were nervous (in the regular-season loss to Curtis),” Ponce said. “None of our shots were going. With Curtis, it’s just about being mentally ready.”

Whether it was the adrenaline or just being better prepared, Gig Harbor didn’t have any problem with the Vikings the next time around in the state championship game.

“We just had better confidence,” Ponce said. “We had a lot better drive defense, drive offense. Our shots just kept going in. We were a lot smarter with everything we did. We didn’t give much up.”

The future looks bright for Gig Harbor. In addition to returning Ponce for one more season, the Tides also return junior Olivia Lott, who was named the state tournament’s most valuable goalkeeper.

“This season was really (Lott’s) season to fully take control of the cage,” Kelly said. “She really stepped up her effort. She was the first goalie in the Tides’ program to get over 200 saves in one season. Those were incredible numbers. She always seemed to have her best games against the toughest teams. Saturday night was no different. She had a fabulous effort including blocking a 5-meter penalty shot in the third quarter. That really lit up the team in terms of positive energy.”

Gig Harbor also returns Anna Furrer, who missed the season with an injury, Kenzie Bailey and Kelli Craft.

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