A couple of Maple Ridge water polo players had the honour of representing Canada during the 2011 Pan American Youth U17 Championships held in San Juan, Puerto Rico in August.
Matt Halajian and Danika Kotylak, selected by Water Polo Canada, played on the men’s and women’s teams respectively.
The tournament was held from Aug. 4-13 and saw teams from the U.S., Brazil and Venezuela competing.
Canada had a strong showing from both teams.
The Canadian women’s team went undefeated to win gold, while the men’s side tied for third place with three other teams and ended up fifth overall. That was enough to secure the last qualifying spot for the Junior Worlds Water Polo Championship in Australia in 2012.
“Ideally, you want to bring home a medal, but we lost a few matches by one goal. The United States ended up losing the gold medal to the Brazilians by one goal,” Halajian said. “I would have liked to come home with a medal, but it didn’t work out that way.”
This was the second year in a row Halajian has represented Canada. Last year he travelled to Toronto and Serbia with the national team. This summer he’ll be heading to Europe with Water Polo Canada to take part in tryouts for next year’s squad.
Even though he didn’t win a medal, the 15-year-old Halajian gained valuable experience that will help him down the line.
“It was all very exciting. Just having the opportunity to play for the national team in amazing, but to get go to Puerto Rico and play against the U.S. and Brazil was incredible. I learned a lot and, at times, it was challenging,” he said. “Our hotel was right on the beach, so every morning we’d be up doing dryland training at 9 a.m. and jogging on the beach, and then we’d have to play a game at 3:30 p.m. But it was really fun.”
Halajian and Kotylak were two of the youngest players on their squads and both ended up playing in the starting line-ups for each by the end of the championship tournament, a major accomplishment for young water polo players.
Both players began their water polo careers at the Haney Neptunes Aquatic Club and are currently based in Langley, playing for the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club.