Teens with big-play dreams have a basketball court in the driveway at home or a spacious back yard to hone their skills.
Amelia Portin has a lake.
It’s her open-water sanctuary, a place to work out, a go-to spot for others to occasionally drop by for a pickup game of water polo.
To recreate her game of choice, Portin has turned her share of Lake Meridian into a 25-meter-long water polo course, lined and marked with string, rope and floating noodles and replete with nets.
“I love it. It’s my favorite part of summer, pretty much getting tanned and playing,” said Portin, a standout player at her high school, Auburn Mountainview, and captain of her year-round travelling team, Bellevue-based Northwest Water Polo Club.
A swift swimmer who holds a pair of records in the pool at Auburn Mountainview, Portin took up water polo at age 6 and hasn’t looked back.
Today she is one of the state’s top junior-level players, a maturing 5-foot-7 center who shines in a growing, spartan sport. Playing front and center of the opposing goalkeeper, Portin scores routinely against some of the region’s best competition. She also looks to distribute the ball to her teammates.
Humble and good natured, Portin enjoys the physical, rugged nature of the game. It is her passion, a sport she hopes to take to the collegiate level, where some Division I schools have inquired about her all-around skills.
“I like to win and being around a good team and contributing to being a part of a good team,” said Portin, 16, a member of the Olympic Development Program’s Northwest Zone team, and a USA Water Polo Academic All-American. “I like the team atmosphere. Swimming is really an individual sport. In water polo I made a lot of new friends, learned a lot about myself and how I can contribute.”
Portin and her club recently finished second in a regional tournament in Gresham, Ore. The club frequently travels throughout the region, including Canada, for matches.
As a representative of the PNW Zone team, Portin recently matched up against top players in a national championship tournament appearance in Pleasanton, Calif., where she earned the Nick Johnson Inspiration Award for her impactful performance. The award recognizes those players who embody the vision and values of the Olympic Development Program.
“The competition was incredible. The players are so much better than I’ve ever seen before,” Portin said of the visit to northern California. “It was a good learning experience.”
As for the award?
“I felt really humbled and really blessed,” she said.
What makes Portin a special player is difficult to describe.
“I wish I knew because if I could bottle it and spell it, I’d be rich,” said her mother, Roselle. “She’s got great patience and grace and perseverance. … She’s a great captain, a leader. Rather than take an open shot and the glory, she will pass it off to others to share in the scoring.”
Portin is busy this spring. A junior, she is part of a Lions water polo program looking to make the state field, something it narrowly missed out on last season.
She will turn her attention to competing with her team at the Junior Olympics this summer at Huntington Beach, Calif.
No matter what the competition brings, Portin tries to maintain her poise and focus. Under the surface, the game can be violent, with players exchanging blows from elbows, knees and hands. Portin makes sure she doesn’t retaliate in the battle for position and in the fight to pass and shoot the ball. Her spot in the pool, center, or “hole set,” is a basketball-like post-up position where the ball comes in and goes out, attracting plenty of attention from the defense.
The center spot is a hub of activity requiring quick thinking and composure. She also can play the utility role.
“I credit that to my background, my faith,” said Portin, who grew up in the Seattle Christian school system before enrolling at Auburn Mountainview her freshman year.
Portin, an honor student, would like to pursue a career in childhood education, maybe special ed.
Roselle’s daughter is emerging right along with the sport.
“It’s relatively new and it’s growing,” Roselle said. “It’s really moving up from California through Oregon and Washington and over to Idaho. You can see the progression. It’s really been exciting to watch it grow. It’s a phenomenal sport.”