Del Carlo is relatively new to the sport but two solid years in the pool, including a spectacular senior season that included a state championship and MVP award, was enough.

Score one for water polo.

Recent Ashland High graduate Natalie Del Carlo, who's played basketball since fourth grade and helped the Grizzlies snag the fifth-place trophy in the 2009 OSAA Class 5A girls basketball state tournament, has verbally committed to play water polo at Sonoma State University.

Del Carlo is relatively new to the sport but two solid years in the pool, including a spectacular senior season that included a state championship and MVP award, was enough to convince the 6-foot-2 hole set to take it to the next level.

"Really, I think it was just about doing something new," Del Carlo said. "If I was to play basketball, I would have stayed in Oregon. I just wanted to go to California and try something new and if it doesn't work out, I can always come back to Oregon and play basketball at a small school or something like that."

Del Carlo averaged five goals per game for the AHS water polo team as a senior while shooting 67 percent. She finished with 78 goals, 24 assists and 32 steals and was named the MVP of the Southern Oregon Conference.

Playing the sports competitively for the first time as a junior, Del Carlo scored 44 goals while also tallying 21 steals and eight assists.

Ashland head coach Christi Gilmore said Del Carlo's size and ability to pick up the sport's fundamentals quickly made her a tempting project for the NCAA Division II Seawolves to take on.

"She's only been playing for two years, so I think (the Seawolves' coaches) see her strengths and think they can improve on those and make her a fantastic player," Gilmore said.

Gilmore believes that gamble will pay off for Sonoma State.

"I think her potential is huge. She's right on target to where she should be."

Del Carlo was probably best known locally for anchoring the interior defense for the Ashland girls basketball team, but spent most of her time on the varsity team backing up all-star teammate Brenna Heater. With Heater resting her surgically repaired right ankle, Del Carlo's playing time went up during her senior year. She scored a lifetime-best 21 points in one game, and routinely hit double digits in scoring and rebounding.

"Definitely the hardest thing for me was giving basketball up just because I've been doing it for so long, but I can always play on a club team or intramural team down in Sonoma," she said.

Del Carlo said she was also recruited to play water polo by University of California-Berkley, California State Unversity-Monterey Bay and UC Davis, but felt Sonoma State was the best fit. It also didn't hurt that the Seawolves are coached by Coralie Simmons, who was recently named the Division II National Coach of the Year.

Simmons made a strong impression on Del Carlo when she visited the campus last November.

"I watched a practice when I went down there and she really seems like she knows what she's talking about," Del Carlo said.

Del Carlo, who will leave Ashland Aug. 15 and start practicing at Sonoma on Aug. 7, has spent the summer preparing for the jump to collegiate water polo. She's been working out with the Ashland coaching staff, fine-tuning her shooting stroke.

"I feel that I'm as prepared as I can be," she said. "I obviously wont' be as experience as the other players but I think that I have a pretty good chance at keeping up."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com