By JENELYN RUSSO     1/30/2016

Without any previous experience playing water polo, or even a background in swimming, Stephanie Gaston went out on a limb and decided to join the water polo team when she arrived at Rosary Academy as a freshman.

“I actually knew nothing about [water polo] going in to it,” says Gaston. “I thought it sounded cool because it was in the water. I played, and I fell in love with it.”

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Now a senior, Gaston has embraced her inexperience and worked to earn her spot as varsity goalkeeper for the Royals.

“The challenge was coming into a sport I knew nothing about… and getting used to swimming as much as you do,” says Gaston. “The other challenge was transitioning into a goalie,” adds the 17-year-old. “I worked hard to get better.”

The role of defending the net is something that Gaston enjoys, always having preferred being on the defensive side of the ball and directing the defense. “It’s a very good feeling to know that you’ve stopped a shot,” she says. “I feel very strong when I’m in the water.”

Despite getting a late start in the sport, Gaston has become a leader for the Royals, bringing out the best in her teammates with her positive attitude.

“Stephanie is the ideal athlete and one of the hardest workers I have,” says Rosary water polo head coach, Rory Bevins. “She takes on every challenge in front of her to get better, and works as hard as she can with one of the best attitudes I have ever seen. She leads by example, and I know she will do everything she can to leave this program better than when she came in to it.”

In her final seasons, Gaston says she will miss not only the competition, but the tight-knit community she and her teammates have created.

“That’s one of the things I enjoy so much about water polo, not just the sport, but the team,” she says. “I don’t think I would love it as much as I do without the team that I have.”

Future plans for the Anaheim resident include staying local for college and studying to be a high school or college math teacher. And while she may still decide to compete in the sport at the club level, Gaston knows that her unexpected experience as a water polo goalkeeper has equipped her with plenty of life lessons.

“Something that I have learned (from playing water polo) is teamwork… [and] to never give up,” she says. “As a goalie, I’m not going to block every shot. But I can’t let those shots that I miss affect me. I need to be able to put it behind me and try my best on the next one.”