Previous experience drives freshman water polo player’s breakout campaign

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Hatchet Photographer

Freshman utility player Alana Ponce leads women's water polo with 42 goals and 58 total points through the first 18 games of her college career.

It took freshman utility player Alana Ponce just two matchups to make her way into the women’s water polo record books.

When the Colonials (10-8) took on Gannon at the Bucknell Invitational in February, she tied the program record for goals in a single game, netting eight in GW’s 16–10 victory. The performance matched previous tallies from senior attacker Jacqueline Bywater in 2015 and former colonial Mia Fabian in 2001.

Since then, the Gig Harbor, Wash. native has continued to be the team’s offensive dynamo – leading the Colonials with 42 goals and 58 total points through 18 games. On the defensive end, Ponce’s 26 steals put her in second place on the team.

Ponce earned her second Collegiate Water Polo Associate Rookie of the Week nod her for 12 goals in a three-game weekend series against Saint Francis, Bucknell and Harvard March 24-25.

Head coach Barry King said Ponce’s previous high-level training allowed her to contribute early on in the season, especially on a roster full of players getting accustomed to a new coach and six new freshmen.

“She’s got the requisite physical skills to be able to compete at this level,” King said. “She was ready physically when she got here. And the newness of the situation, where everybody is trying to get used to me and each other, created quite a few opportunities for her to have that impact.”

As the youngest child in her family, Ponce began her water polo career in the shadows of her older siblings. Her eldest sister, Elise, tried out for the water polo team at Menlo School – a private high school in Atherton, Calif. – at the urging of her basketball coach. The sport has stayed in the family ever since.

“It kind of just started like that, and then my middle sister got into it,” Ponce said. “I sort of just got thrown into the pool.”

Each of the sisters found success in the college game. Elise graduated from Loyola Marymount in 2012 after playing goalkeeper for four years and Julia, her middle sibling, is a junior utility player at Fresno Pacific. Through her high school career and into her freshman year at GW, Ponce has already made a name for herself.

She was a standout in her local water polo community, winning four state titles at Gig Harbor High School and finishing as the program leader in goals, assists and steals. She earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association All-American honors for four consecutive years.

When searching for a college and a team, Ponce was originally attracted to Michigan and Pacific – but the city life of D.C. eventually lured her to Foggy Bottom. She said she initially struggled with the distance from her hometown, but once the Colonials’ season began earlier this semester, the camaraderie and support of her teammates – like senior utility player Scarlett Hallahan – eased the homesickness.

“When I came in for my recruit trip, Scarlett was actually my host so it made it easier to know her beforehand,” Ponce said. “I could come in knowing that I had a lot more people on the team who wanted to be here and succeed.”

As the season progresses, King said Ponce needs to raise her level of competition on a consistent basis in order to reach her full potential. He said she is still growing accustomed to not always being the best player in the pool and focusing on improving her game when that it is the case.

“Getting used to understanding what her true 100 percent is was her biggest challenge,” King said. “The more consistent she is about the level of effort she puts in, the more dangerous she is going to be going forward.”

For Ponce, the expertise King – who is in his first year helming the Colonials – brings from his 19 years of coaching at Indiana is key in taking both her and the team to a higher level. In the fall, King led men’s water polo to its first-ever conference championship.

“I’ve learned so much while I’ve been here compared to being in high school,” Ponce said. “He has a lot of knowledge of the game so I think if we listen and actually put it to work it’s gonna go well.”

With eight regular-season games remaining, the Colonials are three wins away from matching last year’s total as they enter conference play. Next weekend, the Colonials will travel to Cambridge, Mass. for their first four Collegiate Water Polo Association games of the season.

During CWPA action, wins and losses determine postseason seeding and teams are more familiar with each other. Ponce said the team is nervous heading into the weekend, but players will better understand what they need to work on once that portion of their season is underway.

Maggie Ball, a senior center defender who has competed in 24 CWPA regular-season contests in her career, said Ponce’s play on both sides of the ball suggests her success will continue.

“I am excited to see what she is going to do when it comes to scoring on those goalies,” she said. “They are really talented, and I think she is going to be able to get in their heads a little bit and score us some goals.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.