A teenage Bolton School pupil is aiming for the heights in water polo after becoming a two-time English School’s champion and picking up a haul of medals in a short space of time.

Sonal Ladha has achieved national success, despite only taking up the sport two years ago.

And she says despite water polo not receiving the exposure of some other sports, it is her passion to do well in after she made the switch from swimming.

Sonal explained: “I realise water polo isn’t the most well-known or popular sport in the world, but it has become a huge passion of mine.

“It all started with swimming. Since the age of three, I was always at home in the water, initially splashing around for fun with my parents and big sister, Karishma, and progressing into competitive swimming over the years.

“Once I started secondary school, I underwent trials for the Bolton School swimming team and got in. It was around halfway through Year 7 when I was first introduced to water polo and started training with my school.

“In Year 8, the team trained hard on Friday mornings before school. As well as school training and I started to attend a club for some extra training.

“I trained three times a week for water polo and still kept up with my competitive swimming. Close to the end of Year 8, I competed in the Under-13 English Schools’ Swimming Association (ESSA), where our team finished third.

“Last year, in Year 9, I still trained three times a week - twice with my club and once with school - and kept up with my swimming.

“And all my training with my club paid off as I was selected to play in the U15 category at National Age Group Championships (NAGs).

“I was selected to play as a goalkeeper, which isn’t my preferred position but I was happy to play in any position to help my team.

“The first game went great as the final result was a 19-0 win, and although there were some closer results we won every group game.

“The club finished top of the group which placed us in the finals which we went on to win 13-4 which gave me my first gold medal for water polo.

“Then, earlier this year, I was selected to play for my school’s U15s team in the U15 ESSA Trophy. The team was confident with all the work we had put in to win and we made it to the finals where it was a close game which finished in a draw. It went to penalties, but after some nailbiting minutes we were victorious.

“I was also selected to play in the U18 ESSA tournament, where the team also made it to the final and won.”

In addition to training with her club and school, and achieving honours, Sonal trialled to join a national training centre which allowed her to face other experienced players all over England.

She continued: “I was successful in getting into the centre and started being coached by GB players who are helping me improve my skills at centre-back - my preferred position. I was selected to play against the other teams in Coventry where, over two days, we trained and competed.

“As well as all of these training sessions I was privileged enough to fly to Malta with my school to play matches against their national U15 girls’ team and train in amazing outdoor facilities.”

As the run of success continued, Sonal’s club also qualified to compete in the U17 NAGs finals weekend, which took place in Sunderland at the beginning of May.

On the Saturday, they won their semi-final 19-9, but the following day saw them lose 20-17 in the final and they had to settle for silver on this occasion.

But it was still a proud moment for Sonal despite her disappointment.

She added: “ This was the most heartbreaking loss I have experienced, especially because my team were dominating until the end of the third quarter.

“The team were all devastated but we congratulated the opponents, and wished them well. In the team talk after the match, a team-mate lifted our spirits and said we would keep training hard to claim the gold next year.”

So is water polo a sport Sonal would encourage other youngsters to take up?

“I would definitely recommend this sport to those who are confident swimmers as there are many opportunities to do it, she said.

“I have had many amazing and memorable experiences in the past couple of years since I have taken up water polo and become more confident, resilient and determined ever since I started.

“My team skills have improved so much and I never could have imagined where this journey would take me when I attended my first trial. I’m excited for what’s ahead.”