A large squad of junior canoe polo players were part of the South African contingent at the recent Junior International Championships in Belfast, Ireland.
The tournament is the largest junior canoe polo tournament in the world with 44 teams from many different countries taking part across the three age-groups of U15, U18 and U21.
South Africa entered two U18 teams plus two players joined a united nations mixed team in the U15 category. The squad arrived three days before the tournament were able to do some touring around Belfast before starting their pre-tournament training.
Of the 16 players in the South African team, only two players have been on tour before with the South African polo squad.
There has been a big push to develop players and the average age of the South African squad was 16. It is part of South African Canoe Polo and Canoeing South Africa’s development plan to prepare athletes for international competition.
This tour and last year’s canoe polo tour to Belgium were part of the national U21 squads preparations for the 2019 African Championships in Knysna and 2020 World Championships in Rome.
SA Canoe Polo is using all these tournaments to give the young squad members a chance to compete for top five and even podium places come the 2022 and 2024 World Championships.
The teams all faced stiff competition and were put through their paces. There were some really close games for both the U18 boys and girls teams and the girls had the unique opportunity of playing against the U21 women’s bronze medalists from the World Championships last year.
After two days of extremely tough competition, the boys finished the pool stages in the top 15 and got placed in the bronze group (positions 12-18). The girls were in 4th in the U21 Ladies division and top six of the U15 mixed division.
The United Nations U15 mixed team was also in the top six.
All the players showed great growth as the tournament progressed and this is really good for the growth of the sport going forward. Most of the games were live streamed on the South Africa Canoe Polo facebook page and are available for viewing.
Next up for our national teams is the African Championships where the u21 and senior teams do battle with the other African canoe polo countries for spots to World Champs as well as the title of African Champion.
The teams that traveled to Ireland were:
u18 Boys: Coach Chris de Bree
Kyle Hardy, Kyle Laxton, Kyle Buchler, Josh Smith, Jack Ligeti, Aideen Carr and Jamie Truby
u18 Girls: Coach Nelson Das Fontes
Abigail Bezuidenhout, Jade Das Fontes, Tineke Cooper, Kyle Hanton, Taya Hanton, Carla Collins and Sabina Hoejm
u15 United Nations team
Thomas Das Fontes, Andrea Collins