Junior Julia Santos is passionate about water polo. From an early age, she has built her life around it. She was recently awarded the All-League Most Valuable Player for the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL).
The journey toward recognition was not an easy one. Julia has worked hard since first being introduced to the sport at the age of 11.
“We signed up for this club, and my mom threw me in,” Julia said. “I just tried it for fun and I picked it up automatically. There were so many boys [and] there were only two other girls, and so it was really intimidating being one of the few girls there and not even knowing the sport.”
Despite being a novice, the sport continued to draw Julia in and make an impact on her life. By maintaining consistent attendance, not only has she improved her skills to league MVP status, but Julia has also built a strong bond with her teammates and coaches through the sport.
“[My] coaches have practically taught me everything and have poured everything into me,” Julia said. “Everything I do in the pool is not only for me, but for them, because they’ve put so much time and effort into helping me become a better player. [The team’s] chemistry is great. We take everything seriously. Everyone’s on the same page and there’s nobody who does their own thing.”
Not only does she work hard to make sure she improves for every game, but Julia also gives back to the sport by coaching younger athletes in water polo.
“Water polo is something that I’m passionate about and to see a bunch of little kids trying this is really fun,” Julia said. “Trying to persuade them or show them how water polo is such a great sport and seeing them enjoy [the sport] that I love is really rewarding.”
Even with school, she is still able to balance her time so she can maintain good grades while practicing and coaching on a regular basis.
“I’ll have practice for two to two and half hours,” Julia said. “In addition, I’ll stay on the pool deck [for] two more hours to coach. Time management is something that I’ve been forced to pick up because of how many hours in a day I spend on the pool deck.”
Even when she isn’t in the pool, Julia takes any opportunity to improve her game.
“Sometimes in class when nothing interesting [is] happening, I always have the habit of searching for articles or videos of the latest events or popular people in the water polo community just to check up on what’s happening,” Julia said. “I always find myself going on stat websites [to see] how well other people my age are doing around the country.”
One particular thing that sets her apart from other water polo athletes is her use of a mouth guard during games.
“This guy elbowed me in the face and my tooth cut my lip and it started gushing out blood,” Julia said. “This was back in seventh or eighth grade. Ever since then I’ve been wearing a mouthguard and I’m one of the few girls to wear a mouthguard. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say ‘Hey, are you the mouth guard girl from Los Altos?’ It’s really funny how not only do people recognize you because of your number or your skill, but [there are] other things that set you apart.”
Now, with the season over, Julia continues to train in preparation for her senior season. For her, water polo has given her the memorable experiences to make it a passion.
“There’s something about scoring a goal in a game that is super rewarding and keeps you wanting more, [making] every single practice and game worth it,” Julia said. “When you’re playing an actual game there’s just so much adrenaline and the crowd is there. The coaches are cheering you on, and your family is watching. You want to impress [them] but it’s how much fun that you’re having. That’s what’s most important for me.”