Anna Aquino got her groove back and area foes have suffered the consequences.
Born with patella dislocation in both knees, the 2019 Gazette MVP in softball could have never played, but that’s not how Aquino rolls.
In fact, when the knees, which could dislocate without warning, got to be too much, Aquino went under the knife and came back fighting.
“When I was younger, I didn’t want this injury to ruin my career,” the Medina junior said. “Even when I was doing therapy, I kept pushing myself. I wanted to prove to myself and to my teammates that no matter what you’re going through you need to keep a positive mindset and never give up because you can always get through it and that’s what I did.”
That sounds a lot easier than it was.
After a freshman season where she was named All-Greater Cleveland Conference and All-Gazette, Aquino finally had enough. While she batted .535 with a 1.412 OPS and had eight doubles, two home runs and 19 RBIs, the pain was too much and she decided to get both knees fixed.
The three-hour surgery on her left knee took place June 13, 2017. The right knee was operated on less than two months later. Both surgeries left five-inch scars.
What came next was a ton of introspective, rehab and want-to.
Aquino missed summer ball between her freshman and sophomore seasons and didn’t really get to go 100 percent until tryouts as a sophomore.
It wasn’t until March 26 of last year that Aquino got to test out her knees in a game against Shaker Heights.
“I was very nervous,” she said. “One, because I hadn’t been practicing and playing all summer and two because of my knees. My teammates and coaches helped me out a lot. They were really supportive when they saw I was timid to do stuff and pushed me through it.
“When we had our first home game I was nervous to slide, nervous to pivot and do anything. As the season went on, the pain did go down, but there was still some because my body wasn’t used to running around for three hours every day. Now, I have a lot more confidence in myself. When I used to run I had doubts in my mind that they might dislocate. I didn’t want to pivot too hard or go full out. Now, I can push myself during games and during practice.”
What followed was an unbelievable sophomore season. Aquino led Medina County and tied the school record for batting average (.600, Deeann Townsend, 1985) and finished with 48 hits, 14 doubles, a 1.499 OPS and 35 RBIs.
“Anna’s drive to succeed and her passion for the game is truly admirable,” Bees coach Jessica Toocheck said. “She had a surgery that would have knocked a kid down. For her, it’s only made her stronger and given her more motivation to go out and do her thing and pursue the passion she has.”
Fast forward to this season and Aquino 2.0 pushed the bar higher, leading Medina to a 23-5 record and Greater Cleveland Conference title in a league that included state semifinalist Elyria and regional finalist Solon.
A second-team Division I All-Ohio selection, Aquino led Medina County in batting average (.593), slugging percentage (1.132), OPS (1.758), triples (9), home runs (6) and hits (54) and was second in on-base percentage (.626) and RBIs (39).
She also was among the county leaders in doubles (13), runs (31) and walks (13).
“She’s just a very focused kid,” Brunswick coach Julie Salzman said. “When I was coaching third base and I was close to her during a game, you can feel the intensity around her. She wants every ball to come to her. She wants to be that playmaker. Even watching her at the plate, she’s one of those contagious players. She’s going to get your team going because she’s going to do everything right.”
None of that surprised Toocheck, who saw all of this talent in her star long before her junior season.
With nothing holding Aquino back, the veteran coach let her shortstop take the wheel and what followed was nothing, but success.
“Anna really worked on the mental side of the game,” Toocheck said. “Every time you looked at her in the box, she wanted to be in those situations. She is a team-oriented player. She wants to step up. It’s great to see the drive she has in pressure situations.
“She’s always taking extra reps and doing everything she can do. She’s grown into learning the game. For her, confidence can come from her past successes and what she’s able to do in the clutch. With her mentality continuing to grow, her potential is limitless.”
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