Game day arrives and senior Annika Disney goes through her routine. She wears a Piedmont visor to school, the same one she has been wearing for four years, sings Kanye West for the whole team, and then tops off the pregame hype by spitting in her teammate’s mouth for good luck.
Disney started playing water polo in freshman year when she made the varsity team without any prior experience with the sport. This season, before getting injured, Disney scored 48 goals in nine games, averaging over five goals per game.
“I think of myself as a competitor,” Disney said. “It’s just in my blood, I guess.”
Disney said that after making the team, a large component of her motivation to play water polo came from her connection with the team captain at the time, Sarah Mooney.
Disney began playing club water polo the summer after her freshman year and when she struggled to keep up with the experienced players, Mooney acted as a mentor, Disney said.
“She not only showed me the ropes in the pool, but also with life,” Disney said. “I learned a lot from her about having a good attitude and that you get to choose your attitude.”
Mooney’s guidance inspires Disney to keep positive energy present as one of the captains of the varsity women’s water polo team.
“I’m not just a leader to teach the girls the sport in the water, but also more of a big sister for them outside of the water,” Disney said.
Varsity women’s water polo co-coach Joe Welsh said Disney is a great leader because she models a strong work ethic and a positive attitude.
“She fights for every inch and doesn’t back down,” Welsh said.
Women’s water polo team member and junior Jessica Allen-Goix said that she also values Disney’s drive and how Disney inspires the other players to continue improving their skills.
“She definitely does have fun, but also brings out the competitiveness that we need,” Allen-Goix said.
Another team member and junior Amelia Tolles said that she appreciates how much Disney cares about the team, despite her injury and inability to play in recent games. Tolles said the team’s first game without Disney was difficult and they lost in the third overtime.
“At the end, she was pretty distraught over it,” Tolles said. “She felt like she let us down even though she didn’t. She cares so much about how well we do and is really invested.”
Disney said that despite any obstacles or doubts, her love for the sport has led her to continue playing.
“I lose track of time when I get in the pool, in a good sense,” Disney said. “My passion is just kind of absurd.”
Disney’s love for the sport has made her torn rotator cuff injury hard to deal with.
“I just want to be in the water,” Disney said. “It’s been difficult, especially during high school season because it’s a time for me to grow, excel, and score a certain amount of goals. I like to keep that number high for college.”
Disney said that although her injury has been a setback, it also has allowed the other team members to improve. It has given juniors, especially Tolles, who is now the No. 2 scorer, a chance to step up, Disney said.
“It’s known she is the best player, and she does everything,” Tolles said. “We all rely on her, so without her it’s made us strengthen our own playing. It’s been harder, but it’s fun.”
Welsh said that Disney is not as confident in her playing as she should be.
“She deserves a lot of credit, but she is really humble about how good she is,” Welsh said. “She works hard at everything she does across the spectrum.”
Behind the spirit and purple face paint on game days is Disney’s connection with and dedication to water polo.
“I try to learn more from water polo than just the sport,” Disney said. “With all the setbacks I’ve had, I have learned a lot about myself as a person and become more resilient.”