The South African men’s and women’s U21 canoe polo teams are off for a testing two-week trip of Europe where they’ll play in two tournaments to gain as much experience as possible ahead of the 2020 Canoe Polo World Championships in Italy.
The tour is going to be a brutal one for the two young teams with the majority of the women’s team being comprised of juniors.
The teams will start out in Ghent, Belgium where they’ll play in a two-day tournament against some of the strongest canoe polo clubs in Europe.
The U21 men’s team will play against clubs boasting some of the best players in the world, who have recently returned from the World Championships in Canada.
It’s going to be a tough tournament for the women, who will take part in Division Two, which will see them drawn against 21 men’s teams from around Europe.
They then move to the city of Ypres for a week of training before the De Pabbel international tournament on 25-26 August. This tournament consists of 70 teams across four divisions in one of the world’s most popular canoe polo tournaments.
Once again, the U21 men’s side will take on the best in Division One while the women will have a slightly easier draw.
Despite the women being in a separate draw, they are going to be in for a tough tournament with world champions Germany providing five teams in the division.
For experienced SA player and national committee member Laurel Oettle, the tour is going to be a vital stepping stone for both teams in their bid to qualify for the World Championships in Rome, two years from now.
‘The aim of the tour is to expose the up-and-coming canoe polo players to the rigours of international standard canoe polo,’ said Oettle.
‘This will challenge and, hopefully, inspire them to aim high as they begin their preparations for the upcoming African Championships next year –which they need to win to qualify for the World Championships.’
Familiarising the squads with top-level competition can only be a positive for them and Oettle believes the tour is going to be the perfect opportunity for them to learn from the best.
‘As the majority of the women’s squad are U18, they have a number of years ahead of them to compete at U21 level, and learning to cope with the pressures of high-standard canoe polo will stand them in good stead for the years to come.
‘The tour is aimed at developing the players and teams, not at achieving any particular result, and we wish them an eye-opening and enjoyable experience,’ she added.
Photo: The SA women’s side, (back row, left to right) Cayleigh Shaw, Megan Eckhart, Abigail Bezuidenhout, Amy Peckett, Laurel Oettle. (Front, row left to right): Jade Starr, Bronwyn Goode, Emmi Wood, by Gameplan Media