Sister Act: Furanos Find Separate Roles with Bucknell Water Polo

With just one year separating them in age, the Furano sisters – Ally and Paige – have often been lumped together. They have shared the same friends, played the same sports and now, even attend the same college.

One place they are truly individuals, however, is the pool.

“They are completely different,” Bucknell water polo coach John McBride said. “Each of them plays on opposite sides of the pool. Ally’s side of the pool is the more offensive side and Paige’s side is more of an assist/distributor/quarterback side of the pool. Ally could not play on Paige’s side of the pool because she can’t make decisions and Paige could never play on the offensive side of the pool because she doesn’t have that mentality. Paige is very, very physical and Ally is more finesse. Because they are different in that way, we have to find different roles for them on the team.”

Their differences don’t stop there.

“Ally is very opinionated; she has a strong opinion which sometimes gets her in trouble, but you never have to guess what she is thinking, because she is going to blurt it out,” McBride said. “Paige is more reserved and introverted with her comments. We really have to work hard to pull anything out of her. They are both very different personalities when I am around them. In the water or in practice, Ally is always telling Paige to calm down. They get on each other in the water, which is great for competition, and hold each other accountable, whether they think I notice it or not.”

Ally, the older Furano sister, is a sophomore attacker, who has led Bucknell with a school season record 111 goals, ahead of Aubrey Rowe’s 75 in 2009, to go with 47 assists and three CWPA player of the week nods in 2019.

Ally is studying economics and political science with hopes of doing something in the financial field. She loves being active outside of water polo, including doing CrossFit and swimming. Besides that she says “honestly, when I am not in the pool or working out, I am watching TV.” Her favorite show: Game of Thrones.

“I think one thing that people don’t know about Ally is how competitive she is,” Paige shared. “I am more open about how competitive I am. You can kind of read it on my face, but Ally is very good at hiding it. People also don’t know how much she really cares about things. When she wants to do something, she does it to the fullest. She is always going to give it everything she has. I also think people don’t know how goofy she is.”

Ally Furano – courtesy Bucknell Athletics

Paige, a rookie attacker, has chipped in 27 goals and 34 assists including a school record-tying seven goals against Harvard on March 31, matching four other such outputs (last by Hannah Sunday vs. VMI, 2/15/15) and leading her to a CWPA Co-Offensive Player of the Week accolade.

Paige is a neuroscience major, hoping to minor in education. She loves CrossFit and loves to run. Beyond that, “I feel like all I do is homework. Water polo, eat and homework. That is pretty much my life at the moment.”

“Paige is a super caring and giving person,” Ally said. “I know that what she wants to do after college is work with kids with special needs. She is patient and she is caring. I think that is something that people don’t know about her right of the bat, is that she is so giving.”

Paige Furano – courtesy Bucknell Athletics

Each sister has found her own place on a Bison team which has improved from 16-18 (3-5 CWPA) in 2018 to 23-11 (4-2 CWPA) in 2019 and sits as the #21 team nationally and the No. 3 seed heading into Friday’s CWPA Eastern Championships in Providence, Rhode Island.

But, water polo was originally supposed to just be Paige’s thing, a way to get the younger sister some independence after years together as swimmers and on the soccer field. It all started as their father Anthony spotted a water polo game happening across the complex during one of the girls’ swim practices – ‘looks like soccer on the water, might as well try it out.,’ he said and Paige did so at age 11. But as fate would have it, at age 12, a need on Paige’s team brought the two back together once again.

“I started with it because my parents want to give me a sport of my own, so my sister and I could have a little bit of independence, but the water polo team needed an extra girl to go play at the Junior Olympics and I basically begged Ally to come on the team,” Paige recalls. “It didn’t take much convincing. It is all my fault; I created this monster.”

“I thought I might as well go try it,” Ally chimed in. “And then, I just fell in love with it and quit soccer and really just focused on water polo. With water polo, I loved the environment and the contact involved in the sport. It was just more of the competitive environment I wanted to be in. I love the contact part of the game. Being able to be creative and outdo someone or post them up and score on them, that is really cool and it is a great feeling when you can outdo someone. I think the best part of my game is that I like being creative and water polo gives me the space to do that.”

For Paige, the draw to the game was the same – physical contact, but what has made her excel is much different.

“I basically fell in love with water polo instantly, because it is a combination of everything I love to do,” Paige said. “I love to play soccer and when I played soccer, I was basically the person who shoved people to the ground, so water polo is pretty similar to that with the physical aspect. And there is a mental aspect with swimming – you have to keep in mind that you aren’t really swimming against the person next to you, but you are swimming against the clock and have to keep yourself motivated. I like the mental and competitive aspects mixed together in water polo.

“Being that I am a little bit on the smaller side of the spectrum, I could never really out-muscle a person, so I always have to anticipate where the ball is going and beat the person to the ball. I prefer the outsmarting, or the mental aspect of the game more than the physical.”

Their differing styles and approaches to the game make them the perfect combination in the water.

“Ally is very offensive,” McBride said. “She loves to shoot the ball; she never met a shot that she didn’t like. Paige is very good at making passes and taking risks we have tried to get other players to make in the past; she has a very high IQ in the pool and makes very smart passes. If people are driving or attacking the cage on the other side without the ball, Paige’s ability to see the whole pool and recognize that and make the entry pass or cross pass and draw the penalty shot helps create a lot of the goals that Ally is able to score. Most of Ally’s goals are a result of a full team effort, coming on penalty shots created by her teammates. She is starting to face the fact that people are going to press her and take away the opportunity to be offensive and that is going to create more opportunities for people like Paige to score more goals.”

Often known as Ally’s little sister, little Furano or even little Ally, especially growing up in the water polo community in the Northeast, it took a little while for Paige to develop her own identity, but embracing it has opened up new possibilities.

“Sometimes it has been difficult for me to find my own identity,” Paige said. “It took me a while to understand that I don’t play similar to Ally and for me to just stay in my lane and understand who I am as a player. In the Harvard game, I think it was more of an out of body experience for me. I try to go into each game with something that my parents always say and that is ‘effort and attitude and trying to know who I am and stay in my lane. Doing what I know is best and not trying to be someone else.’ I guess in that game things just kind of happened and worked out for me. It was just working for me that day. I have no words.”

For a player who had to earn her spot in the starting lineup, the 7-goal output, while maybe an isolated incident, proved that she could contribute.

“Every game she is gaining confidence and that game things just clicked for her,” McBride said. “Paige didn’t start the season; she had come off the bench. Despite the fact that she didn’t like that and we kind of made her earn her opportunity, when she was given that opportunity, she became a major contributor. That was the best time to do it, to show us that she deserved to be in that starting lineup.”

Similarly, Ally had to earn her place in the spotlight, transitioning from high school and playing behind four seniors as a rookie in 2018. The comfort level and change in responsibility have seen her output skyrocket from a 47-goal, 13-assist season in 16 starts in 2018 to 111 goals and 47 assists in 2019.

“Ally and Paige come from a program that is 180 degrees different than our philosophies here,” McBride said. “With every freshman that comes from that environment, there is a learning process they have to go through. So, while we had a lot of goal scorers last year, Ally was more of a role player. They have since graduated and Ally’s role has changed, but also her ability to adapt to our philosophies has changed as well.”

“It was more a year of development to see where my game would fit into the Bucknell style,” Ally added. “This year, I think I have tried to hone in that I am going to be more of an outside shooter. I think that is where most of the goals come from. I also think this year everyone has been given more of a dynamic role on the team. We are doing more dynamic offense with post-up players. Our captains have also done a really good job creating a positive environment and being good leaders for our team. Everyone feels really comfortable voicing their opinions on things we should change or improve and it is just more of a cohesive environment.”

In addition to those factors, it is safe to the Furano sisters are a big reason why the team is in position to hopefully earn its first opening round win at the CWPA Eastern Championships since 2013. A first round win over #6 seed George Washington on Friday, would earn the team a rematch with #2 seed Princeton, which beat them just two weeks ago following a mentally and physically draining senior night loss to Michigan.

“Our expectations are that we make the right decisions in games and that those decisions will lead to victories. If we do what we need to do properly and the fundamentals are working, we can beat anybody, regardless of what their tactics are. We said at the beginning of the season that this is where we expected to be and now we are here, so beating George Washington that first game is our goal. If we beat them, we should be well rested with more than 24 hours before our next game, and hopefully ready to play Princeton.”

Either way the score ends up on Friday, McBride is proud of his team’s accomplishments in 2019, including three wins over Top 25 teams (#20 Marist, 11-7 on Feb. 2; #19 San Jose State, 10-9 OT on March 16) and #14 Harvard 9-7 on April 6).

“If you asked the athletes at the end of the season last year if we would be in a better position this year to do as well as we have done, they would have said no way, but we felt as a coaching staff that we have a very special group, one that is willing to work hard and suffer,” McBride said. “We don’t go deep into our bench, so a lot of our athletes are asked to play all 32 minutes each game. That is a very difficult thing to do and the only way you an accomplish it is if you are mentally tough and used to suffering. These women embrace suffering. They never asked to be subbed out even though the look on their faces tell me they are ready to throw up all over the place. They can take a punch and are not afraid to be physical. This team is special and that is why we expected to be where we are.”

Other Current Sister Acts in College Water Polo

Inspired by the Furanos, here’s a look at some of the other sister acts in women’s collegiate water polo. The group features two sets of twins: Nohea and Kahea Kahaulelio at Pomona-Pitzer and Mackenzie and Cassidy Wiley at Stanford.

In our research, SwimSwam also found that the Redlands has a set of fraternal twins: Mitchell and Sami Walker, who play on the men’s and women’s teams respectively.

Sisters School
Bente & Lieke Rogge Arizona State
Ally & Paige Furano Bucknell
Cynthia & Brigit Mulder Cal
Madison & Morgan Egan Concordia (CA)
Savannah & Zaylynn Mangrum Fresno Pacific
Silvija & Lilija Taraska Gannon
Jillian & Keely Hamilton Long Beach State
Hana & Mei Vilanova Loyola Marymount
Jocelyn & Justine Castro Marist
Michaela & Sarah Hershey Mercyhurst
Heidi & Emily Ritner Michigan
Cassidy & Chelsea Evans Occidental
Nohea & Kahea Kahaulelio Pomona-Pitzer
Makenzie & Aria Fischer Stanford
Kat & Sarah Klass Stanford
Mackenzie & Cassidy Wiley Stanford
Caitlyn & Sarah Snyder UC Santa Barbara
Georgia & Jessee Ransone UC San Diego

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Brendan Heller

Great article on great kids. Making Connecticut, and Greenwich, proud…Keep going!

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