By Melina Nath and Henry Hagel, Staff Writers
// As many Acalanes High School student-athletes competed in California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) events, one athlete in particular took the high school sports world by storm. She excelled at two sports in one season, breaking course records where she ran and dominating the pool in water polo.
Sophomore Olivia Williams had a record-breaking season for the Acalanes varsity cross country team while simultaneously playing on the varsity water polo team during the fall sports season.
On Nov. 6, Williams shattered Hidden Valley Park’s three-mile course record by 30 seconds, becoming the Diablo Athletic League (DAL) champion.
“Breaking the course record at Hidden Valley was really special. It was a complete shock. I didn’t go into the meet expecting to break any records at all,” Williams said.
Williams also ran at the North Coast Section (NCS) meet on Nov. 20 and emerged as the Division 4 champion, leading her team to a third-place finish.
“NCS was another super unexpected surprise. I was competing against Sophia Nordenholz from Albany and had lost to her in previous races. I went into the race with the goal of just trying to run close behind her. Then it turned out that I was feeling really good and decided to go for it and make my move and go ahead of her. I ended up finishing 20 seconds ahead of her,” Williams said.
The cross country team qualified for the CIF Cross Country Championship on Nov. 27, where Williams placed second and the varsity team placed fifth.
“I am so glad that I was able to run at CIF and go to the state meet not only as an individual but with our entire Acalanes team. Getting to have that experience and running in that kind of pressure situation with all these spectators watching was really nerve-wracking, but it’s also exhilarating to have so many people racing around you,” Williams said.
After running in the CIF Cross Country Championship, Williams’ parents drove her four hours that day to Arroyo Grande High School for the CIF Water Polo Championship. She played an impressive game for the Acalanes varsity water polo team with a goal and assist.
“I will say my legs were definitely a little bit tired when I first got in the pool for our water polo championship, but once I got my head into the zone and I was mentally present in the pool, I felt really strong,” Williams said. “I thought that we had a really great season. We played a really tough team and I thought we really came together. Unfortunately, we didn’t win but it was definitely a whirlwind of a day racing in the morning, hopping in the car for a four-hour drive, and then playing a water polo game.”
Williams also made first team all-league for cross country, second team all-league for water polo, and placed third in the Eastbay West Regional for cross country on Dec. 4. She will go on to represent Acalanes at nationals for cross country.
Although Williams grew up playing many sports with running included, she did not begin running cross country until the COVID-19 pandemic. She joined the Acalanes team in February and participated in the following track and field season.
“Cross country I really do for the environment. Everyone is so warm and welcoming and really wants to be there, and getting to go meet a fun group of people after a long day makes the experience really enjoyable,” Williams said.
She began playing water polo at ten years old and attributes her success to years of experience.
“I like the physicality of water polo and the quick thinking. It requires you really always have to be thinking about the next step, what play you’re going to make, who you’re going to throw the ball to, and having that quick-paced game is something that I really enjoy,” Williams said. “I would say [continuing to play water polo] really proved to be beneficial in my training for running because getting in the water after a cross country practice really helped my legs to recover and loosen my muscles.”
Williams regularly attended multiple practices daily and notes the importance of time management for all student-athletes.
“It’s a balancing act trying to stand on the homework and the grades while also trying to make the most of both sports. As a student-athlete, using any time you’re given to do homework is super important. I was just always on top of my work… so I never got stuck in situations where I’m playing catch up and just trying to bring my grades back up,” Williams said.
Coaches admire her incredibly strong work ethic, which contributes to her success in both sports and academics.
“Whenever we let players select what interval they’re going to swim on, she’s always putting herself at that upper limit of what she can do to challenge herself. She’s just an incredibly disciplined, hard-working student and athlete. She never used one [sport] as an excuse for the other. That was never her way of thinking about things, and it just makes her unique,” math teacher and water polo coach Misha Buchel said.
Aside from her individual performance, Williams’ teammates express that her positive attitude makes her an essential leader on the cross country team.
“She’s a great teammate, she comes early and stays late at practices and meets, sets a good example for the team, and is one of the most encouraging people on the team. Her accomplishments this year are also incredibly inspiring, and having her as a teammate is extremely motivating because when you have someone of her caliber as a daily training partner, it helps drive the rest of the team to get better,” sophomore Logan Farzan said.
Teammates, coaches, and staff alike anticipate a bright future for Williams.
“Olivia Williams is a role model of what athletes were in days past. It is difficult enough to excel in one sport. She does so in two sports at the same time,” Athletic Director Randy Takahashi said.
Courtesy Photos by Eric Morford.