Ally McCormick's status seemed in doubt prior to her senior year with the Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team.
Consider that water polo is really a year-long sport at CdM, with night leagues in the spring and fall and various tournaments in the summer.
Then consider that McCormick did not touch a water polo ball from late February until September.
"I think there was some question among some of her teammates," CdM Coach Sam Bailey said. "They didn't really know where she stood with things, but I didn't really question it. She's a competitor. At the end of the season last year, I couldn't have imagined that being the last water polo match of her career ... I didn't really think she would walk away from the sport or the team at the end of last season."
Everyone knew where she was in the spring, when she did swim for CdM. She was part of two freestyle relay teams that set school records at the Pacific Coast League finals.
Over the summer, McCormick was again working as a lifeguard in Laguna Beach. Whispers were heard on the CdM pool deck that McCormick might not play in the winter. She understood those whispers.
"When I was lifeguarding, I was never on the pool deck, so no one ever saw me," she said. "It would make sense if people would be a little skeptical."
McCormick said she briefly had doubts herself. She's going to BYU for swimming, but has no plans to continue her water polo career after high school.
"I think that there was a little bit of doubt," she said. "There was a short period of time where I wasn't completely sure if I was going to come back. But I remember telling my coaches when I came back that the real reason I came back is because of the friendships I've made here. The girls, I couldn't imagine not playing with them, and I really do love this sport. That's why it was an easy decision to want to come back."
McCormick said the way that last year ended, an 8-7 loss to rival Newport Harbor in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match, also did provide motivation to return.
Now, perhaps one gets a better feeling for the mind-set of Ally McCormick. She is fiercely competitive, but also very well-rounded.
The Daily Pilot Athlete of the Week showed both attributes last weekend as CdM kicked off its season in Santa Barbara. She scored three goals as the top-ranked Sea Kings defeated No. 7 Dos Pueblos, 11-10, on Dec. 7. Then she again scored three goals and played standout defense in CdM's 8-6 victory over No. 3 Santa Barbara the following day.
The wins were impressive, as CdM played without three collegiate Division 1 signees — senior co-captain Cassidy Papa and Greek twins Stephania and Ioanna Haralabidis — in both matches. They were at the FINA Youth World Championships in Australia. Against the Dons, CdM was down another starter, junior center Marina Coskinas (ACT test).
McCormick was a pretty easy choice for Athlete of the Week. The same was true a year ago, when she also received this honor after the first week of the season. Last year, McCormick scored four counterattack goals as CdM beat Dos Pueblos, 10-8, stopping the Chargers' 68-match winning streak at the time.
She can beat you in a variety of ways. Her quickness also extends to defense. She shut down UCLA-bound Santa Barbara senior Kelsey O'Brien, holding her scoreless.
The lefty is very well-rounded in the water. Bailey expects nothing less from McCormick, a three-year varsity starter and two-time Newport-Mesa Dream Team selection. The past two years she's also led the Sea Kings in assists.
"Obviously, she's up at the top of high school water polo in Southern California, which hypothetically means she's up at the top of high school water polo in the nation," Bailey said. "All of this, with a 50% commitment to the sport. Her time's kind of split. It really makes you understand how amazing of an athlete she is. She's able to take that much time off and still come back and play at such a high level. It really says a lot about her athleticism.
"Playing on the left-hander's side with a team full of right-handers, it's a position where we needed her. We needed her to embrace it, and she's done it. She facilitates a lot; we're able to run a lot of our offense through her. She's always risen to the occasion, always risen to the challenge."
McCormick said it was hard at first to come back in September. She was in good swimming shape, which isn't the same as good water polo shape.
"Passing, shooting, my leg strength weren't the same," McCormick said. "It was a little difficult to get back in it, but it doesn't take extremely long. I'd say after about a month I felt like I was really back in it ... I really love water polo, and I love lifeguarding. Sometimes it's hard to find a balance. But I feel like taking a break, I was able to come back really refreshed."
McCormick also shines academically at CdM, where she has a cumulative grade-point average of 4.2. She's taking two Advanced Placement classes, in Environmental Science and Calculus BC.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to know that McCormick will more than likely be done with water polo after February. She has said as much. It's something that not everyone might understand, even her coach, who played water polo and coached at UCLA and likes to slip John Wooden sayings into his dialogue.
"She's unique," Bailey said. "It's interesting."
How can someone that good at water polo just walk away?
"It's going to be really tough to give up water polo completely," McCormick said. "At the end of this year, that will really be the end of my water polo career, but I think I'm one of the few water polo players who really enjoys swimming. Even though it's hard, I really look forward to just swimming for the next four years."
For the next two months, though, the Sea Kings have McCormick. For that, they can be very grateful. Without her, they're probably 1-1 right now and not 2-0.
"She's strong in the water," Bailey said. "She's tough, and she's not afraid to get physical. It was fun to watch [against Santa Barbara]. I think she took a ton of pride in the defensive role, the defensive matchup that she had.
"It's even more remarkable that she was able to do that and find the back of the net three times."
Remarkable, sure. Surprising, probably not.
By now, no one should be surprised with the versatility of Ally McCormick.
Born: March 27, 1995
Hometown: Newport Beach
Sport: Water polo
Coach: Sam Bailey
Favorite food: Mexican food
Favorite movie: "Elf"
Favorite athletic moment: Winning the Battle of the Bay last year, 6-5, on then-senior goalie Alex Musselman's full-court shot at the buzzer.
Week in review: McCormick scored six combined goals as the short-handed Sea Kings, down three starters in one game and four in another, opened their season with an 11-10 win at Dos Pueblos on Dec. 7 and an 8-6 win at Santa Barbara the following day. The senior also shined defensively in the second game, helping hold Santa Barbara's Kelsey O'Brien scoreless.