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La Jolla Athletes of the Week: Bishop’s Bonaguidi sisters reflect on their years of water polo together

Alex and Julia Bonaguidi celebrate winning their third CIF championship together as teammates.
(Courtesy of Alex Bonaguidi)

For sisters Alex and Julia Bonaguidi, winning at water polo is the norm. Alex, a senior, has been with the Bishop’s School Knights water polo team for all four years of high school and has won a CIF championship each of those years. Julia, a junior, has joined her sister the past three years.

The 2022 season was the latest triumph, with the Knights winning the CIF San Diego Section Open Division title on Feb. 19 in dominating Grossmont of El Cajon, 18-1. Alex led the scoring in the championship match with five goals. Julia had three goals, two assists and two steals.

But this season was different in that it may be the last one the sisters will play together after spending half their lives as teammates. They started playing when Alex was 9 and Julia was 8.

Alex has committed to play water polo at USC after graduating from Bishop’s this year.

“Growing up, we were a big ocean family. We were surfers, would always go to the beach, were on the swimming team,” Alex said. “I got bored chasing lines on the bottom of the pool, so we all tried water polo.”

Alex said she was drawn to the sport because, at 5-foot-11, she has the physicality needed to thrive.

“I was always a bigger child, so things like water polo came naturally to me,” she said. “Since it is a contact sport and you play with your hands, a wide wingspan is important. I can reach over and flip the ball right out of someone’s hand and into mine. When you are bigger, you have more mass to push other people around. And water polo is such a physical sport; it’s like rugby mixed with basketball in the water.”

Alex Bonaguidi (8) lines up a shot against Grossmont in the 2022 CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship game.
Alex Bonaguidi (8) lines up a shot against Grossmont in the 2022 CIF San Diego Section Open Division championship game, in which she scored five goals.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Julia, who is almost as tall as Alex, said team energy and her competitive nature draw her to the water.

“Every day I get to hop into a pool and play a competitive game with such passionate young women,” she said. “In playing such a physical and competitive game like water polo, we learn to be courageous and find that inner flare within ourselves that forces us to persevere through hard games or swim sets. When we are in the pool together, we test our physical and mental capabilities. We push each other to be the better players of the game, and more importantly, better human beings. And when someone is having a bad day, we pick one another up. The water polo community and its history are full of such strong, inspiring women who push themselves toward the best of their abilities.”

Julia recalls seeing that team chemistry in action while in eighth grade and watching Alex play with the older Bishop’s athletes. It motivated her to one day join the team.

“I admired how tight-knit the Bishop’s water polo team looked. I remember watching her games and longed to play on the team as well,” she said.

“They share a kindred spirit of wanting to be the best. They push each other during practice and then compete together as sisters and teammates.”

— Doug Peabody, Bishop’s water polo coach

The sisters started with club teams and worked their way onto the high-ranking Knights by striving collaboratively and competitively to make each other better.

“It’s amazing to compete with her,” Alex said of Julia. “Sometimes at practice we would go at each other and yell at each other, and it can be harsh sometimes. But we are both talented water polo players, so we help each other grow as players by talking things out and pushing each other.”

Alex is a center and Julia is a guard, “so basically, she would guard my position if she was on the other team,” Alex said. “Practicing with her has made me so much better.”

During car rides from practices or games, the two would debrief each other and “give each other tips on how [we] can improve,” Julia said.

“I absolutely love competing with [Alex] because I understand her and she understands me,” Julia said. “We always find a way to work for each other. … Overall, she is my teammate, friend and sister, and I’m just so fortunate that I have that opportunity.”

Julia Bonaguidi (9) had three goals, two assists and two steals in Bishop's Open Division title-clinching victory Feb. 19.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Bishop’s water polo coach Doug Peabody has seen that chemistry translate to a high level of play.

“They share a kindred spirit of wanting to be the best,” he said. “They push each other during practice and then compete together as sisters and teammates. They complement one another with their work ethic and competitive nature.”

He said the rest of the team can see how natural talent combined with hard work yields results.

“It shines a light on what a competitive relationship is and what it can do for a whole team,” Peabody said. Having the Bonaguidi sisters on the team has been “like having Shaq and Kobe,” he said.

In reflecting on her last season with her sister and the Knights, Alex said: “It’s sad that [this] was the last one, but I will cherish the memories that I made with her and my team. But it also means a new chapter in my life that I am very excited for at USC.”

La Jolla Athlete of the Week features athletes from all sports in high school (La Jolla High, The Bishop’s School, La Jolla Country Day School) and other local youth sports. We’re looking not only for the stars of competition but also for student-athletes who set an example for teamwork, academic achievement and/or community involvement. Please email your nominations, and a way to reach your nominees, to Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.