Athlete of the month: Aaron Velarde

Starting water polo in his freshman year, the team’s leading scorer has spent all four years on varsity.



Senior Aaron Velarde led the Brahmas in scoring and points this year.

Cindy Liu, Asst. News Editor

Transferring from one school district to another halfway through middle school is never easy, but Diamond Bar High School senior Aaron Velarde found a passion that made him feel at home.

“They brought me in; it was a giant family and I really like that atmosphere,” said Velarde, who joined the varsity water polo team in his freshman year and continued playing his entire high school career.

On the DBHS varsity water polo team, Velarde is a utility player, manning any position the team needs him at. However, he mostly takes on the role of the main scoring option.

According to Maxpreps, in 27 games Velarde averaged 3.3 goals per game and totaled 23 steals, 18 assists and 107 points. He also ended the season as the team’s leading scorer.

“Aaron is a natural leader,” water polo head coach Alexander Matal said via email. “He is humble, confident in his abilities and loves to compete.”

Just two years after joining the sport, Velarde found himself competing in the 2016 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics against athletes from all over the country. Last summer, he returned to the Junior Olympics and the team finished in second place in its division.

“It was a great accomplishment,” Velarde said. “I didn’t think I’d be getting that far because it started out to be just a hobby. [But] it just turned into something more [and] I became really serious about it.”    

In addition to earning a spot in the Junior Olympics, Velarde also started for the Brahmas in his junior year when DB made a run to the CIF semifinals.

“It’s definitely nerve wracking because I have a lot of pressure on me going into games,” Velarde said. “But as the games go on, the nerves go away and I just have to play my games and do what I can do.”

Outside of DBHS, Velarde plays for Chino Hills Area Water Polo Aquatics, one of the top water polo teams in the nation. He started playing with the club near the end of his sophomore year, which was when he became serious about the sport.  

“I just really sat down and thought about it, and I knew I could do something with this,” Velarde said.

Being on the water polo team also introduced him to coach Kevin Hammond.

“After I joined freshman year, I really looked up to our coach because he kind of took me in like I was his son,” Velarde said. “That was kind of cool, like I had someone watching over me over my high school years.”

Playing water polo also forced Velarde to manage his time well. On top of balancing his academic and social life, he practices water polo for roughly 15 to 20 hours a week.

Having played on the water polo varsity team his entire high school career, Velarde saw firsthand how the team changed over the years. The graduation of the senior players on the team led to some difficulties with maintaining the level of the team.

“A really big challenge is just the change from last year to this year because a lot of our more experienced players graduated last year so it kind of set us back because we had incoming [players] who weren’t really introduced to that level of playing until this year,” Velarde said. “We had to try and…use our experience to help those new people to get used to the play style.”

Despite his success in high school, Velarde is unsure about pursuing water polo on the collegiate level.

However, water polo represents an important aspect of his high school career.

“I’ve always strived for success since I started [water polo]. I always push myself and that’s why I keep going,” Velarde said. “Knowing that I’m pushing myself and getting better and better every day is what I love about water polo.”