Circumstances and length have played prominent roles in Nyla Sharma’s ascension in water polo.
Starting out as a field player at age 9, the Mountain View resident has now become one of the top Bay Area goalies in her age group.
“It’s really when our team had to go to some bigger tournaments and we didn’t have a goalie that I was just put in goal,” the 13-year-old said. “(My coaches) were like, ‘You have long arms, let’s see what happens.’”
A lot has happened since that fateful day three years ago. Nyla, a standout goalie on her club team, was among a handful of Bay Area players chosen to represent the Pacific Zone of Northern California at the annual 2019 Girls Olympic Development Program National Championships (ODP) March 15-17 in Riverside.
The tournament brought together the best players in the 13 zones throughout the country, organized by age into All-Star, Youth, Cadet and Development teams. Nyla played on the PACE Development-level team with girls born in 2005 and 2006.
She was selected months earlier at training camps that required eight hours of evaluation by coaches.
“For goalies, they evaluate you on things like how good your base position is or how high you can jump,” Nyla said. “They also film a little video showing how high you can get your arms up, how long you can hold that position and where your positioning is when you do lunges.”
Nyla’s PACE team competed against 15 other squads, ultimately placing seventh out of 16 in the March tournament.
“I think it went really well. (My team) did pretty good ourselves,” she said. “Playing was really fun, but what was a lot more fun was the fact that a bunch of people that were on my team are on clubs that I know. Now, I can go to tournaments and I’ll know when I’m playing them, so I have more good friends outside of my own club.”
Nyla plays for Mayfield 650 Water Polo Club, based in Palo Alto. That’s where she learned the value of teamwork, which she said is especially important in water polo.
“Since I’ve been playing with the same people for the past four years since we all started together, I’ve kind of learned how to read them,” said Nyla, who dabbled in swimming, basketball and volleyball prior to water polo. “When you’re playing, if you say their name a certain way, then they already know what you’re going to do; you don’t have to specifically say what it is. That sort of thing is really, really important if you’re a team.”
Her time playing with the PACE team at the ODP tournament proved valuable to the Woodland School eighth-grader.
“Skill-wise, I worked a lot more on my positioning and specifics of being a goalie,” Nyla said. “Experience-wise, the games were a lot more fast-paced (compared to club games) because you have a lot of really, really good players. Learning everybody’s names, positions and what they looked like before we got in the pool to play together was actually really fun, too.”
While the decisions of higher-level water polo commitment are still a ways away for Nyla, she knows that the sport will be a part of her future.
“I hope that I do play water polo in college,” she said. “Professionally, I’m not 100 percent sure, but it’s definitely something that I love, and it’s something I want to continue with for now.”
If she does, expect Nyla to continue saving shots.
“My favorite part about playing goalie is the fact that you’re essentially in charge of the defense,” she said. “When players are (excluded from the game) or playing defense, you’re the one that has to call the plays, you’re making sure everybody is where they’re supposed to be – you’re directing people.”