Cuesta College water polo players Eric Marsh and Alexandria Bernard hardly knew each other before the college selected them as its athletes of the month back in November.
Bernard was in the midst of shattering the Cougars’ women’s program record for steals. Marsh was chasing the men’s single-season assist record set by his dad and Cuesta head coach John Marsh, who met his wife while she played volleyball for the Cougars.
Then the athletic department’s monthly award brought the two freshmen players together.
“First thing that we ever said to each other,” Eric Marsh said, “Ally Facebook messaged me and said us athletes of the month should celebrate.”
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A romantic relationship blossomed soon after. Now, close to six months later, the two are still dating.
And whereas athletic honors helped break the ice, the players returned the favor Tuesday by bringing the athletic department’s highest honors back to the pool on a banner day for aquatics.
Competing against MVPs from every sport on campus, Marsh and Bernard were respectively named Cuesta’s Male and Female Athletes of the Year at the college’s 45th annual athletic awards banquet.
Men’s water polo player and swimmer Evan Norton won the George Silveria Career Award and water polo’s Nic Lalanne was the Warren E. Hansen Male Scholar-Athlete Award-winner. Female scholar athlete Kaysea Woods of the women’s soccer program was the only honoree that kept aquatics from making a clean sweep.
Whitney Levicki (2007) and Jeff Chaney (2006) were the most recent Athletes of the Year to represent the water polo programs.
“Kind of a good day for us,” said John Marsh, who also coaches men’s and women’s swimming and diving.
Eric Marsh, a former Arroyo Grande High standout, was the Western State Conference Player of the Year and a first-team All-American. He led Cuesta (25-10) to the Western State Conference title and a berth in the Southern California Regional Finals.
His 58 assists were just one short of his dad’s program record, and though he might have an opportunity to transfer to a four-year program for next fall, Eric Marsh is leaning toward returning for his sophomore season and making another run at the record.
“Hopefully next year we have some good shooters like we did this year and we have a team that can play together, have a lot of passing and ability to where I hope I can break that record next year,” Eric Marsh said.
Should he return rather than transfer to UC Irvine or another four-year university, Eric Marsh would have a solid shot to take Cuesta’s career assists mark from John Marsh, but the coach quipped that he might have to pull his son if he gets close to the single-season record again.
“Either way, 1-2 in the Marsh family is perfect for me,” Eric Marsh said. “There’s nothing better than having your father above you or below you. It’s still in the same family.”
Bernard, a speedster who also owns the school’s 50-yard swimming freestyle record (24.51 seconds), was also a first-team All-American and WSC Player of the Year.
Though the Cougars (13-18) did not win the conference title, Bernard’s statistics were undeniable.
The freshman led the team with 70 goals but made a bigger mark on defense. Her 182 steals not only led the state and smashed the single-season program record, but they were also 10 more than any other player has had in two seasons at Cuesta.
Bernard is only the second Cougar to get more than 100 steals in a single season.
“I see the ball, I want to go get it and I go,” said Bernard, who said she identified more as a swimmer when she attended Monache High in Porterville. “If I get burned, I get burned, but I’m gambling a little bit. I rely on my speed. I just saw a lot of opportunities and took those opportunities.”
Now a water polo specialist, Bernard also plans to return for her sophomore season, when she’s hoping the team can improve on its overall results.
Cuesta women’s head coach Pete Schuler said Bernard’s talent and demeanor lends to team success.
“Some of those teams that were real tough games that we couldn’t match up with physically, she could still get us a couple goals just by stealing the ball up top and nobody could catch her on the fast break,” Schuler said. “She kept us competitive in every game.
“Ally is a no-ego star, and her positive attitude provided space for her teammates to blossom.”