Emily Sonny and the rest of the Arroyo Grande High girls water polo team didn’t know five months ago whether the junior had what it takes to play goalkeeper for a team expecting to contend for a section championship.
The entire sporting world knows it now.
The first-time goalie was named to Sports Illustrated’s prestigious Faces In The Crowd page in its most recent edition, listing Sonny among the top up-and-coming athletes in the country regardless of sport.
“It’s cool that people from all around can see you, and maybe that makes them say, ‘I want to be on the magazine one day,’ ” Sonny said. “It’s really inspiring to me and hopefully other people. I read Sports Illustrated all the time when I was younger, and I never thought I’d be good enough to be in it.”
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Sonny is one of six athletes in the April 20 Sports Illustrated, which highlights her 18-save performance that lifted the Eagles to a win in the Division 3 championship game.
“Emily, a junior goalkeeper at Arroyo Grande High, had 18 saves, including a five-meter penalty shot, to carry the Eagles to a 6-4 victory over Martin Luther King High (Riverside) for the Division 3 CIF Southern Section title,” the blurb reads alongside her photograph. “The Division 3 player of the year, she finished with a .750 save percentage and 4.00 goal-against average.”
Her dad submitted her name for consideration, and after hearing the application was accepted, it was a waiting game to find out if she was selected.
The waiting ended Thursday during school, when athletic director Dwight MacDonald told Sonny she was on Page 30.
“It’s so crazy. I thought they only put, like, really good people in there,” she said with a laugh. “It’s just such an honor.”
It’s been a school year of athletic achievement for Sonny, who transferred to Arroyo Grande from La Habra Sonora during the summer before partnering with teammate Ashlyn Herlihy to win co-County Player of the Year honors in girls volleyball.
At 5-foot-11, Sonny had never played goalie in water polo at her previous school, but had always wanted to. When she finally got her chance, her long reach, quick instincts and accurate long-range passing gave the Eagles another way to attack and defend.
Between volleyball and water polo, Sonny and the Eagles compiled an overall record of 51-12 this season and 22-0 against PAC 8 competition.
“I feel like everyone’s just urged me to be my best, especially my coaches,” Sonny said. “They knew that if I try hard, I can be that person that goes above and beyond.
“And both of my teams are great. The players I saw every day in practice are amazing, and all of them made me better. Their shots prepared me for CIF.”
Past honorees of Faces In The Crowd is a Who’s Who of famous athletes: from Tim Tebow and Michelle Kwan to Billie Jean King and last week’s Masters champion, Jordan Spieth — the cover athlete for the edition Sonny is honored in.
Included alongside Sonny this week are the MVP of the McDonald’s All- American boys basketball game (Cheick Diallo) and the top-ranked college men’s golfer in the country by Golfweek.com (Maverick McNealy).
Sports Illustrated subscribers have received the most recent issue, while it normally hits newsstands the following Monday.
Sonny has yet to make her college decision, but wants to study agriculture, which limits her choices for water polo but still leaves the door wide open for volleyball.
With a senior year still to go, she can take a moment to step back and bask in her accolades. Although that doesn’t appear to be on her agenda.
“I’m definitely not one to put myself out there and brag about it,” Sonny said. “Whatever happens, happens. I just don’t like to seem like I’m above anyone.
“But it is pretty cool.”