On a cold, windy Friday night a group of exhausted girls and boys arrives at the pool. They are all hoping against hope that the swim test will be cancelled. However within minutes they are reluctantly forcing themselves into the freezing water. Equipped with a timer, squad list and swim test set, the coach starts the countdown. “5 seconds… 3, 2, 1”. In a splash of white water the swimmers push off the wall to start their first 100 metres. Desperate for a rest before their next leaving time, they race to touch the wall. 10 times are recorded, 1000 metres are swum and the water polo players leave the pool area. Relieved and even more exhausted, they know they will be back again. Same time, same place, next week, for swim test 4.
3 months and a rigorous selection process later, the final team is excitedly pulling on their South African water polo costumes. After a seemingly endless flight, they are finally in Sydney! All the hours of training have paid off. 15 girls from around the country are united in the South African team to take on Australia and New Zealand in the u18 TriNations Tournament in December 2013.
They experience a moment they will never forget as they stand on the edge of the pool singing the national anthem before representing their nation for the first time. The starting seven dive into the salty Drummoyne pool to face off against Australia. Their nervous excitement is almost tangible as the whistle is blown.
The next week is comprised of 6 hard-fought matches, sunny summer beach days in the warm water at Manly and Bondi, delicious food, team bonding, traveling all over Sydney in various forms of transport, from trains to buses to ferries, calculating jaw-dropping exchange rates, making surprising and long-lasting friendships, window-shopping at huge malls, poorly imitating Australian accents and exploring the amazing city of Sydney.
The u18 Trinations tour of 2013 was an unforgettable experience. The girls’ team may not have won any of the closely contested matches, but the tournament was invaluable as a learning experience. The players came away with a better understanding of the game, of international refereeing, of the level of international water polo and most importantly of the fact that this level is attainable for South Africa. In one of the matches against Australia, South Africa led the first quarter 4-1, indicating that with the correct structures in place and effective training, South Africa could produce a team capable of dominating internationally.
Inspired by this beacon of hope, the players returned home with renewed motivation.
Next on the agenda for South African u18 girls is the Youth World Championship in Madrid in August 2014. For African countries to qualify for this prestigious event, an intercontinental tournament was arranged in Johannesburg in March this year. Girls’ and boys’ teams from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Egypt participated in a weekend of tough competition. The boys in and girls in the South African teams were thrilled to earn a place at the Youth World Championship.
The selection process for the final South African u18 teams includes Currie Cup, the national water polo tournament. This competition was held in sunny Durban at the end of March. Teams from around the country arrived to do battle in the u18 and Open sections at Kings Park Stadium. The talent, teamwork and sportsmanship on show at this tournament made it exciting for players and spectators alike. Western Province dominated the medals board with three golds (u18 girls, Open Ladies, Open Men) and one silver (u18 boys).
However, for the u18 girls and boys, winning was not everything. The national squad selected at the tournament is yet to be announced. Teenaged players countrywide anxiously await the release of the team list. The Youth World Championship is only a few months away, and everyone wants a ticket to Madrid.
Written by Ruby Versveld