Plum's Romanko continuing unexpected Gannon water polo career
Three years ago, as she wrapped up her senior swim season at Plum and prepared to graduate from Plum High School, Erica Romanko didn't know a whole lot about the sport of water polo.
She was preparing for her first academic year at Gannon University – where she is a junior biology major – and playing water polo wasn't on the radar.
“Plum didn't have a team, so swimming was what I did in the water,” Romanko said.
“We would just sometimes play water polo for fun, but none of us knew any of the rules. We would just have a free-for-all. It was a nice break from swimming laps.”
Romanko thought about swimming in college, but academics was the main reason she decided to attend the Erie school.
But when she got on campus, water polo was introduced to her, and she gave it a try. Today, she is entrenched in the sport and is enjoying the opportunity she never thought she would have.
“I inquired about it, and there also were some swimmers who played, so I asked them about it, too,” Romanko said.
Five current members of the Gannon women's water polo team also swim for the Golden Knights. Of those five, four came to Gannon to take part in both.
Romanko talked to Gannon's women's water polo head coach Don Sherman, and the rest is history.
“She not only has a swimming background, but she has a soccer background,” Sherman said
“That helped her with our picks and where to move in the water. The first year, she had to adjust from the soccer field to the pool, but she quickly caught on. Her shot has become very strong, and her swimming background and ability is very big in water polo because you constantly are moving.”
Water polo features aspects of other sports such as soccer, hockey and handball with the ultimate goal of passing and throwing a ball past the opponent's defense and goaltender and into a goal about 10 feet wide.
The pool dimensions are normally between 65 to 100 feet from goal line to goal line and 30 to 65 feet between each side wall. The minimum water depth must be at least 6 feet.
Romanko, a junior, has three goals and one assist through 18 games after a 12-7 victory over Notre Dame (Ohio) College in a College Water Polo Association game at Gannon on Saturday.
The Golden Knights are 7-11 overall and 1-3 in the conference. The team hosts nonconference foe Grove City in its next game on April 8 at 7 p.m.
Gannon beat Grove City, 9-6, on March 17.
In her first season, Romanko scored two goals, added a pair of assists and made six steals.
She increased her totals as a sophomore with six goals, nine assists and 10 steals.
“I've just had a lot of fun playing the game with my teammates,” Romanko said.
Romanko missed some practice and a couple of games earlier this month while taking a tropical marine biology course in the Bahamas.
Studying the different kinds of fish in that environment, as well as other marine life such as sea turtles, was coupled with studying the Bahamas overall, including its geography, culture and history.
“It was an amazing trip for her,” Sherman said. “The class put her a little behind for the season, but she is coming back strong,” Sherman said.
Water polo is expanding at the collegiate level. In western Pennsylvania, Washington & Jefferson College and Mercyhurst colleges join Gannon and Grove City with water polo programs.
Romanko and the other players at Gannon get a chance to mix it up with a couple of big schools, as the University of Michigan and Indiana University are conference opponents.
Gannon suffered a 17-2 loss at Michigan on March 15, and the Golden Knights fell to Indiana, 15-4, at the Gannon Tournament over the weekend. The tournament also featured the victory over Notre Dame College.
Romanko said she has gotten tougher in the water and has been able to hold off opponents in one-on-one situations, and she feels her passing has improved.
She said she knows she can get even better, and is looking forward to continuing her play with the team into her senior season.
As March turns to April, Romanko said the team is coming together more and more in practices and games and is excited to see what the season holds as the CPWA Western Division Championships approach on April 13.
Romanko said the recent wins over Grove City and Notre Dame College are examples of what this team can accomplish when the players all are on the same page and working together well.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.