Ariane Lussier thought about taking up field hockey when she entered Gilroy High School until a little advice from her older sister Alexia put her on a different path.
Well, calling it advice might be a little kind.
“I looked to field hockey because I’ve always been an athletic person and field hockey to me was the equivalent to water polo,” Lussier said. “But my sister said if I did anything else other than water polo she would disown me. Being the scared freshman that I was, I decided to go to the path” of least resistance.
“I chose water polo because of her.”
Lussier was however a little fish growing up, always wanting to be in the water.
However it Lussier was convinced to get into the pool and take up water polo, it worked. Now the UC Santa Barbara bound, Gilroy High School graduate is leaving as the Senior of the Year as chosen by the school and the Female Athlete of the Year.
She not only shined in water polo, but was also an accomplished swimmer, specializing in the sprints in the freestyle and breaststroke until her senior year.
But oddly enough, her swim coach early on—who also happened to be her water polo coach—told her that she would sprint harder in water polo than swimming.
It was then, Lussier said, that she knew swimming was going to be her B sport and use it as a way to keep in shape for water polo.
It wasn’t one thing that earned Lussier the Senior of the Year honor.
She played drive, defense and keeper for the GHS polo team, going where the need of the squad took her.
“I’ve always been willing to do what they needed me to do to get the win,” Lussier said.
She was a captain for three straight years, even having to take command of seniors.
Lussier helped be a constant when coaching changes and senior graduations led to the team needing to reinvent itself.
And she did it with a smile … well most of the time.
After she received the award—which Lussier did after missing her name being called because she was late arriving because of work—she said she asked her coach why she got it.
“When I got nominated, a lot of the coaches agreed because I’ve always had pretty good sportsmanship,” Lussier said, “I’ve always been one to be willing to help the newer players. I’ve been an adaptive player.”
Again, however Lussier needed to figure out she was a leader, it worked. She walked through the gate at the Gilroy HS pool and was immediately greeted by swimmers shouting her praises and staff members who insisted she was a great leader.
Loving water polo
Her sister left after her freshman year so Lussier was on her own. But the love of water polo had already sunk in.
It also gave her an outlet to figure out who she was.
“I never really had that much confidence and I never really understood what I could achieve until I went into water polo. It’s such a hard sport and not everyone can play it,” Lussier said. “When you start water polo, you can never perfect it.”
Lussier said her best coach she’s had Doug Pickford had played in college, but still sees ways that he needs to improve in the sport.
“I just love a challenge. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and water polo is a game that keeps that for me,” Lussier said.
She said water polo is a complicated sport, but once you find your way with it and start to understand it, you can’t get away from it.
What helped Lussier was going to a water polo camp after her freshman year, which she said helped to break down the sport for her and gave her a better idea of how to play.
“I know my freshman year, I would always rely on my sister,” Lussier said. “She would always tell me what to do. And so with her gone, it was kind of the moment where I lost my safety blanket. I had to learn and do things for myself and learn things for myself.”
Water polo as a stress reliever from school
That all said, school came first for Lussier.
She maintained a 4.5 GPA through high school and sometimes she focused harder on school than her sport.
“I think I used water polo as an outlet to put all my stress and my energy,” Lussier said. “… Water polo is just a way to relax and calm down.”
Lussier was great at academics, but said she had a hard time sitting in class and listen to lecture because it was, as she put it, too boring.
So she would have extra energy that water polo helped to release.
There is little doubt that Lussier is a California girl. Her blonde hair, big smile and cadence screams California.
But she is from the Great White North, born in Montreal before coming to the States in the sixth grade.
“That was pretty intense,” Lussier said of making the move. “It was like going from negative weather, because we moved on Christmas day, and it was really hot here.”
She said she struggled at first, making the adjustment to the atmosphere and rhythms of California from that of Canada.
Despite growing up in French Canada, she said she already knew English because she went to an English school early on. So when she came to California, she spoke the language and had a cool thing to break the ice with new friends.
“I feel like I’ve fully accepted and embraced California now,” Lussier said. “Looking back at it, I would have been the person I am today (if I had stayed). I would not have had the chance to play water polo. I didn’t know what water polo was until I came here.”
Making an adjustment
Lussier said it was really hard to have to switch up from a primary offensive player to a primary defensive player.
“My sophomore year it was kind of a shock because although it was my first year, I was doing pretty good on offense there,” Lussier said. “Having to switch to defense and through out the years flip flopping … is kind of hard. I tend to lean toward what the team needs me to do the most that year and it kind of makes my other side off balance.”
Her junior year she got Offensive Player of the Year and her senior year, she got Defensive Player of the Year.
Lussier said switching her mindset to defense made her a good defensive player, but at the cost of her offensive prowess. But it was what the team needed, so she did it.
To learn how to be that selfless as a teammate came largely from her family. Her parents gave her the good lessons to not be selfish and then being the younger sister meant she had to be willing to change up based on what her older sister wanted to do.
“As a kid I did whatever I could to follow her and do whatever I needed to do to keep up with her because she was older,” Lussier said. “The fact that my dad is very adaptive and my mom is adaptive … I was used to changing things up and not living in a mindset of I have to do this.”