The Best of Both Worlds: How Anika Apostalon Found the Perfect Balance with Water Polo and Swimming

By Shoshanna Rutemiller

PHOENIX, Arizona, January 8. IT is always refreshing to find an athlete talented in more than one discipline. This is especially true in a world where committing to a single sport is often viewed as the only way to succeed at a high level. Meet Anika Apostalon, a senior at Albuquerque Academy (Albuquerque, NM), who just received a dual athletic scholarship in water polo and swimming to San Diego State University (SDSU).

Apostalon started out swimming, but truly hit her stride competing in the NM High School Water Polo League. She began to shine between the lane lines and in the water polo arena, winning numerous NM high school swimming state championship titles in the 50 and 100 freestyle events. She even qualified to compete in the 100 backstroke at the 2012 Olympic Trials, thanks in part to an added intensity from water polo.

For Apostalon, continuing to play both sports in college was a no-brainer; it was merely a matter of finding a school that could accommodate her needs. With help from a variety of coaches (and even a US Water Polo Hall of Famer), Apostalon discovered that SDSU was the perfect fit.

Swimming World caught up with Apostalon to talk about how she balances swimming and water polo, what went into snagging a multi-sport college scholarship, and what she is looking forward to this coming fall as a freshman at SDSU.

Did you grow up playing both water polo and swimming, or did one lead into the other?
I started out swimming with Duke City Aquatics with when I was about 8. Polo was always mixed in off-season for fun. I didn't seriously think about being fully involved and joining a club team until about a year and a half ago, because I fell in love with it after doing high school polo.

How do the swimming and water polo seasons work together during the year?
I do both year-round. The only exception to this is when we start to cut back practices for polo December through January, because [at that time] a lot of us [are doing] high school swimming. We have February completely off for high school state, but pick [water polo] back up in March. The combination works really well for me, because as a sprinter, I like having a lot of variety in what I do. Polo keeps everything fresh, fast, and explosive. You have to be alert and keep your head up. In swimming, I can focus on my technique and the details of my stroke, settle down, and know I control my race, whereas polo depends a lot on others. They might be different sports, but they relate to and compliment each other in so many ways, and I'm glad both coaches from both sports can see that.

When you first started looking at SDSU, did the coaches know to regard you as a package deal swimmer-slash-water polo player?
Originally, SDSU was an option because [USA Water Polo Board of Directors Member and Hall of Fame Inductee] Sandy Nitta and [New Mexico High School Water Polo League coach] Robbie Bova were brainstorming possible schools to do both. It was both swimming and polo from the start. I realized how much polo helped my swimming a few months after I started playing because I qualified for [the Olympic] Trials that same summer. Nitta and Bova knew that [SDSU head water polo coach] Carin Crawford and [SDSU head swim coach] Mike Shrader worked together before with dual athletes, and encouraged me to look into it. There was no other school that would let me do both at a D1 level. It was possible to do one at a high level but either let the other one go or do club. It was always my goal to be able to do both at a higher level once I saw how well the two fit together and kept me balanced. Shrader came and visited my family, watched me swim and scrimmage, and encouraged Crawford to come out to watch. Bova had also reached out to Crawford and encouraged her to watch me play. It actually wasn't until Crawford came out to watch me play in a tournament that it fully hit me how much I loved polo and couldn't imagine not playing.

What were Crawford and Shrader's reactions when you told them you needed both sports?
I remember talking to Shrader and mentioning early on I wanted to do both and he supported it from the start. I couldn't believe it. All the schools I was interested in or heard about and looked into had great swim programs, but there wasn't any way I could do both collegiately until I came across SDSU. Shrader, I think, was a little surprised, but he was excited and encouraging. I told him that would be great if I could do both, and once I got in touch with Crawford, she was also incredibly supportive of it. When I first started the college search, I remember hearing Bova tell me even if I did find a school where I could do both, it'd be hard to do the two sports together if the coaches weren't on the same page. I'm so happy to have been able to find two coaches who are willing to do work together and create a connection between the two sports.

How do you plan to balance water polo, swimming, and school as a freshman next year?
Hopefully I'll be able to manage it well! I've always tried to be careful with how I use my time, even before I started polo, and I think it's has been a huge factor in being able to do both. Of course, college will be a change from everything I've done so far, so freshman year will be different whether I [decided to do] both sports or just one. Once I get into a rhythm I think it'll be easier, but I just want to stay on top of my academics, challenge myself while I do it, and just enjoy being able to do both sports at a higher level.

What are you looking forward to most as a member of both teams?
I'm just really excited to be a part of both teams. It's going be great being around people with the same hopes, dreams, even fears, because that will make us closer and more unified. I know that once I get there I will have a great support system, because hopefully my team will want me to reach my goals just as much as I want to help them reach theirs.