Meghans Maartens and Ashleigh Vaughan took part in a national training camp in Durban two months ago, sharpening their skills before the big time. The South African Women’s water polo team is currently ranked number one on the African Continent.
South Africa will face off against Spain, the Netherlands and Australia in group A. The two youngsters from Gqeberha are primed to make their mark, assisting the team to get to the knock out stage. The preparations are done.
Vaughn is one of the 13 players who’ll be donning the green and gold. She believes her teammates will not be in group A just to make up the numbers in the Olympics despite Team SA sending a female team for the very first time.
“I was very cool when I saw my name pop out on the screen and I had to call somebody to send me a video to see who else made it,” she says.
Vaughan knows they will face the best players in the world. She says she has confidence in her and the team’s abilities.
“I am excited about travelling to such a tournament or event, I am more nervous because I know they only send the best to compete at the Olympics, it’s going to be very hard and it’s going to be hectic,” she adds.
Vaughn’s teammate and close friend Meghan Maartens says they had been training with intensity despite COVID-19 pandemic. Maartens adds that they had been introduced to modern and innovative ways of training and that confidence and hope will get them through the finishing line.
She is also realising her big dream. “I know we are going to work very hard as a team despite everything we have gone through now with lockdown. I think the whole aim is to grow as team and learn support each other as first ever South African women’s water polo team,” Maartens explains.
Despite not training together due to level four lockdown regulations, the ladies’ team believes if they stick to their plan, nothing will stand on their way to success.
Maartens says representing their country on the prestigious event, is their key motivation.
“But training camp have very well, everybody motivates each other. We all have a common goal to grow women’s programme. It’s going well at the moment, it’s just the two of us down here, so we Durban or Johannesburg.”
First Black female head coach, 27-year-old, Delaine Mentoor, is the one who’ll be cracking the whip.
She has competed in the Junior World Championships in Greece as well as the Senior World Championships in Barcelona and Russia. Her coaching career started when she went to university, now she is heading to the Olympics.
Mentoor says she wants to become an ambassador of the game by providing same equal opportunities.
“I am hopeful that my players play to their full potential. Potential is unending. The work they put in is far beyond. We have been working for a year and half. I hope it comes into play. I hope we are showing on the world stage. I hope that teams we play say that was tough,” she says.
SA’s women’s water polo head coach set to make history at Tokyo Olympic Games:
Mentoor says going to Tokyo as head coach, came as a surprise to her, but she is already looking towards Paris 2024. The Gqeberha-based coach believes water polo is growing on the African continent particularly towards females.
“I coached from a young age straight from high school. I coached provincially, my first year out of high school and I knew the next goal would be to coach nationally. I did want it. I never knew it will be at this bigger stage, the biggest stage not so soon,” she adds.
The trio are all based at the Nelson Mandela University. The university has been a feeder to the national team of the years, but going to the Olympics is the biggest achievement thus far.
The University’s Aquatics manager, Melinda Goosen, believes dedication and commitment gave the two ladies the upper hand.
“I think you know having to think about the Olympics itself, it’s the pinnacle of any sport person career and we are dealing our university deals with senior students that wants to achieve in essence ; there’s a part of you that hopes that they make it but realistic in a sense of really difficult only few in the country and in the world that ever makes that pinnacle,” she says.
Team South Africa will leave for Tokyo in a staggered way, with the first batch of athletes leaving on Monday.