Captain and MVP of the women’s water polo team, Stephanie Velasco isn’t driven by individual awards or statistics. What motivates her is trying to be the best leader in and out of the pool, as well as putting her team’s needs before her own.
It’s this attitude that has massively contributed to Velasco achieving numerous personal highlights in her school water polo career.
In 2013, opposition coaches in the South Coast conference selected her for the No. 1 all-star team after a lights-out season when she tallied 63 goals and 58 steals. Velasco is also the current leading scorer for PCC with 25 goals after nine games this season. She had a decorated High school career by winning two consecutive CIF championships with Eagle Rock High school and was selected for the all-star team four times.
Water polo fell into Velasco’s lap at 12 years of age, courtesy of her mother.
“I didn’t know what water polo was and started playing at Yosemite park pool in Eagle Rock over the summer. My mom found out about a water polo program and she put me in it,” Velasco said. “I was always good at swimming, but I don’t like swim team as much, as it wasn’t interactive because you had to think about things on your own. Doing water-polo is more about being in a team, I like being in a team.”
Besides possessing a wide wing span that allows her to tower over her opponents to sling shots at goal, Velasco more importantly cuts the figure of a traffic controller who maneuvers her teammates with her calming presence and cunning strategic ploys.
Fellow sophomore and center-forward Caroline Liu cites Velasco’s perceptiveness as her biggest strength.
“What makes Stephanie a special player is her ability to assess the situation in the water and how she has her eye on other people on where to go and how to play,” Liu said.
Even though she’s a team captain and commander of the team, Velasco doesn’t strong-arm her teammates with orders or threats. It’s her invaluable experience and nurturing approach that enables her allies to reach their potential.
“In the pool I tend to direct people where to go, what to do and helping my teammates out is my biggest thing,” Velasco said. “I’m not one of those people who gets mad when someone does something wrong, I try to help everyone, especially during practice when I can teach my teammates what to do in a game.”
Sophomore and goalie Alenoush Aslanian’s own game has improved a great deal under Velasco’s mentorship. Aslanian has the best vantage point in the pool to observe what kind of impact her captain has on the team.
“I’ve learnt a lot from her, she’s taught me to defend and what to look out for. Stephanie creates a friendly environment and she is the perfect leader for us because she communicates really well and is reassuring,” Aslanian said.
Velasco is majoring in Kinesiology and intends to pursue Physical Therapy as a career.
With the profound impact Velasco had had on her teammates, she was fortunate to have two influential role models of her own who helped to shape her into the person and player she is today.
Adam Roth, Velasco’s former club water polo coach and current program director at the Rose Bowl water polo club, left a huge impression on her with his ability to get the best out of his players with inspirational talks and a first class coaching methodology.
Velasco’s mother is responsible for connecting her daughter to water polo, but above all, instilled in her the discipline and life skills to successfully juggle water polo with school obligations.
“My mom’s been the one pushing me to do water polo over and over. If she didn’t introduce me to water polo, I wouldn’t be where I am now without her,” Velasco said.
Although Velasco cherishes individual accolades, what means more to her is the leadership opportunities and lessons she gains from her water polo career. Ever since her mother introduced her to the sport of water polo, it has been more than a sporting career to Velasco. It’s been a classroom in the water.
“Water polo has definitely got me to understand people and interact with them, usually in water polo I have a leadership goal and in other classes I tend to be the leader of the group,” Velasco said. “Water-polo has transferred to other areas of my life and made me a better leader.”