By John Philip Wyllie
Perennial South Bay women’s water polo powerhouse Bonita Vista had to settle for a share of the Mesa League title this season after it split its two-game series with emerging rival Otay Ranch. Both teams finished with identical 5-1 league records so both qualified as co-champions for the CIF tournament. The scores of those Thursday first round playoff matches were not known at deadline.
What is known is that the Barons received significant contributions from a number of players this season including two-meter defender, Ariel De La Fuente. With a name like Ariel, I guess it isn’t a surprise that this Bonita sophomore is a natural in the water. And while she hasn’t grown a tail like her Disney mermaid namesake, between swimming and water polo she spends nearly as much time in the water.
“My (older) brother played water polo and I always went to his games. I started swimming when I was really young, but then I stopped for a while. By seventh grade I joined a swim team and a friend from there got me going to her water polo practices. From there I joined the team.”
While she still competes for the Barons in both sports, she has grown to prefer water polo.
“I like water polo more because it is a team sport and (winning or losing) is not just on you. I enjoy interacting with the other girls because they are all really great. Playing (and training) for water polo is really hard at first, but once you get used to it, it becomes easier. Even when the practices get really hard there are other girls next to you doing the same thing. I like the idea of working as a team to win.”
Unlike football and baseball, water polo requires athletes to learn all of the different positions.
“With water polo you usually end up playing every position, but I mainly play the two-meter defensive position which is defense on the set position. The set is the position that is right in front of the goal. It is one of the more physical spots because you have to play right on the (attacker) all of the time and prevent them from getting off shots on the net.”
While water polo can get pretty rough, De La Fuente has so far escaped serious injury just sustaining a few bumps and bruises along the way. The practices, which include leg work, drills, passing, shooting and scrimmaging, can often be more demanding than the matches. It is during those practices however, where most of the improvement occurs. Through their dedication, the Barons have shown substantial improvement over the course of the season.
De La Fuente takes little credit for the Barons success, but she is quick to praise the players around her.
“Jessie Yim is our team captain. She along with Carly Hakes, Chelsea Prestige and Wesley Maddocks are probably our stars,” she added. It is harder for defensive players like De La Fuente to shine, but she has also played an integral part in the team’s success.
Both a solid student and an outstanding athlete, she hopes to pursue water polo on a collegiate level after she graduates.