By Kylie Cordell for Clay Today
ORANGE PARK – “My name is Isabella Sells. I’m currently 17, a final year at Pearson Online Academy, and a four-time Junior Olympian in water polo,” the Orange Park resident said bluntly.
At just 4 years old, Sells was treading water for his local swim team. After several years of competitive swimming in the Bay Area of California, where she grew up, Sells became interested in playing a more dynamic team sport. It was then that she discovered water polo.
“I started playing water polo when I was 9 and had my first tournament when I was 11,” she said.
Sells said water polo is like playing football in water.
Sells occupies the center position, which is the most important attacking position in water polo. The role of the centre-forward is to stand close to the opposing team’s goalkeeper and score goals.
The goal Sells is most proud of was from the centre, where the defense was “pretty heavy”.
“It’s not uncommon to get kicked or punched underwater during times like these,” Sells said. “There’s a lot going on underwater. There’s a lot of kicking underwater, especially when trying to swim to the other side of the pool. And there’s a lot of scratching. Before games in the Junior Olympics, they will check your nails. If they are too long, they make you shorten them.
Besides people trying to grab you and hit you to gain an advantage or slow you down, there are many other stressors that make water polo one of the most physically demanding Olympic sports.
Unfortunately, this can be difficult when water is constantly splashing on your face. “Visibility becomes really difficult, especially because you are not allowed to wear glasses. With the chlorine and all, it’s starting to hurt your eyes.
Oddly enough, many athletes get milk in their eyes after an intense match, which Sells says “hurts them less.”
Sells competed with the Stanford women’s water polo team at the Junior Olympics.
“Not the college team, but they are affiliated with the college. The coaches are the same,” Sells said. Unlike the Olympics, the junior version is open to US competitors only and takes place in US cities. It gives young athletes a chance to perform on a national stage against some of the county’s top competitors. The United States Junior Olympic Water Polo Championship is the nation’s largest water polo tournament.
Despite his eight-year career in water polo, Sells says going to the national championships isn’t one of his dreams. “I want to pursue my studies, as well as other interests and hobbies,” Sells said. Graphic designer and creator of webtoons, Sells shares many interests.
Sells digital artwork commissions and puts the finishing touches on her sci-fi fantasy comic which she plans to publish in December. She’s also working on an online visual game, as well as a novel she hopes to complete “somewhere down the line.” Sells uses her art to inspire people to pursue new endeavors.
Most recently, Sells was named the recipient of the 2022 “18 Under 18” award by the National Society of High School Scholars after posting a video depicting the intersection between leadership and creativity. The video details Sells’ passion for combining his love of writing, art, and psychology.
“You usually hear people refer to art as a vehicle for self-expression or quote a ‘more selfish effort.’ But I was trying to make the point that while art can be self-indulgent, that doesn’t necessarily mean it only helps the person who creates the art. I think art can inspire others,” said “It can add to the form of leadership,” she said. Although water polo and the art do not intersect in a direct way, Sells says she has acquired leadership skills of both.
“Water polo is pretty exhausting. There’s a lot going on and it’s taught me to be more persistent and stay strong in the face of challenges,” she said. “Water polo is a more direct leadership skill, and the artistry and storytelling is a bit more subtle in direct leadership. I think this is something that has really helped me diversify my leadership skills, both professionally and academically.