The Corona del Mar High girls' water polo team always has team shirts for the CIF Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
Most of the time the shirts have funny or silly words on the back, nicknames to describe the players. But for sophomore Ashley Quinn, the word on the back says so much about her.
Quinn is a key part of the Sea Kings' future. She was a junior varsity center this year for CdM, and a varsity call-up for the playoffs.
But she also is an inspiration for this year's varsity squad as well. CdM Coach Sam Bailey said Quinn has definitely earned that "fighter" nickname.
She'll be on the bench Saturday night at 6:30, when CdM (26-4) tries to win its first Division 1 title against rival Newport Harbor at Irvine's Woollett Aquatics Center. She'll be wearing cap No. 17 and cheering hard for her teammates.
There is nowhere else that Quinn would rather be. Life has been difficult for her since her father, John Carter, passed away on Jan. 27. On the Sunday before finals week at CdM, Ashley had to deal with something much more stressful.
"He's been suffering for years with melanoma (skin) cancer," Ashley Quinn said. "It was just the end of it. We've tried every treatment and everything. He kept on fighting.
"It was really hard, but he always said, 'I'll keep fighting, I'm going to get through this.' He pushed us more to just live a normal life. We didn't really think about it that much, then it happened. He just always fought, long and hard."
John Carter was survived by his wife, Laura, and Ashley is the oldest of three children. Not only has she had to deal with losing her dad, but she has tried to be a good role model for her younger sisters Savannah, 10, and Lauren, 11.
"It's been really hard, but I stay strong in front of them," Ashley Quinn said. "I'm really pushing them to stay focused on school and stuff."
Ashley knows her father is still watching her with pride. She described him as an outgoing man, who always pushed her to do her best. There are also videos of John Carter, which have been inspirational for Ashley.
"My dad's best friend, he made videos of him, because he knew that it was almost time for him to go," Ashley Quinn said. "One of the biggest things that he said was that if I'm ever having trouble, to just look up at the sky, make [the cross] sign and just kiss up to the sky," she said. "He'll be smiling, watching over me to push me to do better. [I do it] everyday, actually."
She has fought through so much, and the CdM water polo family has provided support every step of the way. Whatever the Quinns have needed, someone has provided.
In particular, Quinn's fellow center on the team, junior Marina Coskinas, is one of her best friends and has been there for Ashley. And playing water polo also has been a release.
"Water polo really helped me through this and kept me strong," Quinn said. "Water polo's kind of my life right now, so it really helped. The few days that I was gone from practice, I couldn't handle it. I needed to be at water polo with my family, my team."
Her father's memorial service was Feb. 16 at 11 a.m., the same time as CdM's Division 1 quarterfinal match against Los Alamitos. Ashley made sure to have her good friend on the team, Matilda Bress, text her updates from the game.
After the Sea Kings beat Los Al, 7-5, CdM went as a team to John Carter Quinn's reception at nearby Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic church.
"We just wanted to show our support," senior co-captain Cassidy Papa said. "She takes us as a family, and we take her the same way. If it were to happen to anyone, we were going to be there for her."
The CIF semifinal against Foothill Wednesday night was thrilling, as CdM had to come back from three goals down. It was a powerful moment for all of the Sea Kings, but especially for Ashley Quinn.
CdM continued to fight.
"Fighter" loved every minute of it.
"I felt like we knew we had it," Ashley Quinn said. "I just had a feeling. I kind of looked up to the sky to my dad and was like, 'Come on. Push these girls.'"