Ocoee High senior Christina Aguirre got in one final year of water polo despite the challenges of bringing together and fielding a team at the school.
In a pool teeming with members of the Ocoee High boys water polo, Christina Aguirre goes through the usual motions of a typical practice.
But on this day at Farnsworth Pool, Aguirre — the lone girl putting in work— looks around dismayed by the stark reality of the moment.
It’s not new that it’s just her at practice, but with this season being her last at the school, the lack of participation on the girls’ side hits harder than normal. For someone who has fought so hard to keep the girls water polo at Ocoee afloat, it feels like a blow to her soul.
“I was practicing with the boys, and I got out and I told Jason (Westcott), ‘I want my girls here, you know?’” Aguirre said. “And I think that was the hardest thing — I felt alone in this, because toward the end of the season, not many of the girls wanted to try anymore. They were kind of done, and I don’t blame them. None of them were seniors, so they didn’t understand where I was coming from.”
The frustration she felt during that practice has been with Aguirre the last few years. She has spent countless hours being the program’s biggest advocate and life-preserver — a role that’s difficult for a sport that often gets overlooked, despite it’s growth around the area.
BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY
In the Aguirre family, water polo has been a longtime tradition; both Christina Aguirre’s older sister and brother had played at the school before. Both also wore No. 12, which was Christina Aguirre’s inspiration for choosing the number for herself.
In her freshman year, she decided to stick to swimming, but opted into continuing the family tradition in water polo her sophomore year. She remembers how fun it was to get out into the water — as well as the challenges of learning to play a team sport.
“When I first went in, I was like, ‘This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,’” Aguirre said. “Because not only is it hard swimming-wise, but I had to learn how to just play and not care what other people think, because I don’t like to be criticized.”
During Aguirre’s sophomore year, everything seemed right in the pool. Her team was led by two trusty seniors, and it was a stable and competitive team. However, once the season ended, things changed dramatically.
During the summer going into her junior year, the two seniors who led the program left, as did multiple girls. Suddenly, Aguirre was thrust into a role she wasn’t ready to take.
“All of the responsibility from those two seniors was put down on me,” she said. “I barely had a year of experience, so I had to learn the game, I had to teach it to the girls who were new, and it was very, very stressful on me. … The other hard part was we would just grab whoever we could find to play.”
Throughout her junior year, Aguirre did everything she could to find girls around campus and cobble together a team. Despite her shy nature, Aguirre snagged girls from her swim team at Ocoee to join and ran around campus trying to find other people.
The lack of players continued into her senior year, putting her ability to play in jeopardy.
“I remember I talked with teammates a lot about it — the boys team — and I’d be like, ‘This is going to be really hard for me. … I want to play, and this is my senior year. I want to enjoy it as much as I can, but we’re not going to have a girls team.’ It was really hard.”
Regardless, Aguirre persisted and fought through the challenges of the season. It was a constant struggle each week for Aguirre and first-year Ocoee swimming and water polo coach Jason Westcott.
“Pretty much every single game on the girls side, we were struggling, because we would have maybe one girl join and then one girl leave,” said Westcott, who was teammates with Aguirre’s brother at Ocoee a few years back. “It was very disappointing, because I really wanted to teach the girls.”
Aguirre and Westcott went around during lunchtime at the school to try their best to bring more girls on.
For the entire season, the team played — when they had enough to field a team — a man down and with no subs. That meant Aguirre and the girls in the pool were worn out by halftime. Regardless of the circumstances, Aguirre was always there for practice and whatever games the Knights could get in.
“I feel like Ocoee creates the best leaders in water polo … and I definitely see some good traits in Christina leadership-wise — never giving up,” Westcott said.
There were times when Aguirre said she felt like giving up but never allowed herself to. She wanted to do it for her parents — especially her father, who loved watching her play — and she wanted him to see her in the pool one last time. She also loved the program too much to give up on it.
“I’m stubborn,” Aguirre said with a laugh. “At that point, why give up? I know it’s aggravating; I know it’s frustrating. But for the people (who) were actually there and needed me, I needed to be there for them.
“And I knew if I left the whole girls program would just crumble altogether,” she said. “I still love the boys (team), I still love the program, and I love the exercise. I’m just stubborn, and I just wanted to make my dad proud and keep going.”