Arroyo Grande senior Isabella Solis remembers her first water polo practice well.
It was her freshman year at Arroyo Grande High School. Solis found herself bored with basketball — her main sport — and was ready for a new challenge. At the suggestion of her brother, Solis gave water polo a shot.
“I remember us passing right by this diving board,” Solis said this week, pointing at the south end of the pool at Arroyo Grande High School. “I just remember learning how to eggbeater … and I actually got it, I think, right off the bat. I just knew, ‘OK, I am going to like this.’ ”
Now looking back on her water polo career — one that includes being a part of three PAC 8-winning varsity water polo teams and adding to Arroyo Grande’s 137-game league winning streak — Solis has fond memories of those punishing practices. Joking with teammates and competing with assistant coaches tops the list.
But much like Allen Iverson, Solis wasn’t always a fan of practice.
“Sophomore year, I had a slump,” Solis said. “Coach (Steven Allen) called me one step forward, two steps back, because I would go to practice one morning, and then I wouldn’t go to the other practices.”
Eventually, Solis figured out the importance of practice, and her game flourished. For her accomplishments, Solis has been named The Tribune’s 2016-17 County Girls Water Polo Player of the Year.
“From my junior year summer all the way through senior year, I never missed practice because I didn’t want that text, that sad face text (from coach Allen),” Solis said. “Once he got ahold of emojis, it was the thumbs-down.”
When it comes to Solis’ performance this season, Allen gives it a big thumbs-up.
A lot of times we expected her to be our leading scorer. It was a big transition for her, but she scored a lot of big goals for us and really stepped up to the plate.
Arroyo Grande girls water polo head coach Steven Allen on Isabella Solis
Solis, who was one of Arroyo Grande’s best outside shooters last season, was forced to play the set position this season when Arroyo Grande’s top scorer, Sarah Parson (57 goals), was in and out of the pool with injuries.
“A lot of times we expected her to be our leading scorer,” Allen said. “It was a big transition for her, but she scored a lot of big goals for us and really stepped up to the plate.”
Using her basketball background, Solis was able to adapt well to boxing out opposing defenders in front of the net and went on to score 57 goals, with 16 coming on key 6-on-5 situations. At the end of the season, the Eagles claimed their 14th consecutive league title, and Solis was named MVP in the PAC 8.
“I got over some mental barriers, thinking I wasn’t strong enough or thinking I didn’t know how to execute the moves right,” Solis said of the position change. “I think I grew a lot as a player this year.”
Her improvement, defensive abilities and offensive versatility caught the eye of Carin Crawford, head coach of the San Diego State girls water polo team. Solis said Crawford liked her ability to play multiple positions in the pool. Eventually, Solis accepted a small scholarship to join the Aztecs, a team currently ranked No. 14 in the nation, and will sign her National Letter of Intent on April 13.
A few days before being offered a college scholarship, Solis experienced what she called “the hardest game of my water polo career” in a 7-6 loss to Poly (Riverside) in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoffs. She was held scoreless.
“It was upsetting knowing that I didn’t rise up to the challenge, even though I rose up to it all the other times,” Solis said. “I wanted so badly to go all the way to finals. It took me a couple weeks to get over that. But everybody has a point where they fail, and that only makes you stronger as a player when you come back from it.”
Solis is now preparing for a busy summer of weightlifting and working at her new job at Cool Cat Cafe in Pismo Beach and said she can’t wait until she can get back into the pool — and back to practice.