A combination of team cohesion, good preparation, and confidence will be key for Clarendon High School for Girls this weekend when they participate in the National Aquatics Festival, which is being hosted by Maris Stella in Durban.
The two-day tournament will see some of the best girls’ water polo teams in South Africa lock horns in the pool for top honours as the season ramps up to full speed.
Clarendon finished in an impressive second place in the same event last year, behind St Stithians College.
They enter the tournament in high spirits after claiming some big scalps in recent weeks, and on the back of winning gold at the Buffalo City Water Polo Tournament in January.
The East London side reached the semi-finals in Makhanda, but were then beaten by Reddam House Constantia, which was followed by a loss to Roedean, resulting in a strong fourth-place finish, nonetheless.
In an exclusive interview with SuperSport Schools, Clarendon’s Head Coach, Hannah Muller, said her team is looking forward to the challenge ahead, and she believes the side will reap rewards for the hard work the players put in during the pre-season.
“The girls have been working hard, with a pre-season swimming and water polo camp at the beginning of the year,” she said.
“We are very privileged to have our Head of Aquatics, who runs our swimming programme for the girls, Kerry Voke. She has experience and knowledge of the swimming pool herself.
“The team has beaten some top schools over the past two weeks, increasing their confidence and team dynamic. I am very proud and excited to see how we do in Durban and at St Peter’s later this month.”
For the past two years, the water polo programme at Clarendon has made positive strides, with the school encouraging young learners to take up the sport from Grade 8.
Early last season, the first team began a rebuilding phase after losing several of their senior players.
The school has also invested heavily in the sport and a new Aquatics centre. That investment paid early dividends when Muller and her side defied the odds by winning the annual Clarendon Stayers Water Polo Tournament in October last year, defeating Diocesan School for Girls (DSG) 6-5 in the final.
Muller said it was challenging for her side at first, but they worked hard to turn things around.
“We had a rough start to our season last year. We had a brand-new team,” she said.
“There were many new players, who still needed to learn the ropes, and throughout the season we had time to build and improve as a team, which showed at the end of the season.
“Winning Clarendon Stayers was the highlight of our season last year, because Clarendon hadn’t won the trophy in the past 20 years, and doing it at our new Harrison Aquatics Centre was a definite highlight.”
This year, Muller’s team comprises both senior and younger players, who are seeking to drive the programme forward.
A majority of the team also represented Buffalo City in last year’s Schools Water Polo South Africa Inter-Provincial Tournament in Gqeberha, where Muller, as the Head Coach, guided the side to a sixth-place finish.
One of the stand-out players during that week was Tori Voke, who was included in the South African Schools squad at its conclusion. She is still part of the Clarendon team and has been at the forefront of the side’s efforts this season.
Muller, a former South African player, however, praised all of her players, emphasising the importance of teamwork, ahead of their quest for glory in KwaZulu-Natal.
“The team has done so well. Each one of the players has her strengths, and that’s what makes us a team.
“You can’t have all 13 players being scorers or attackers. You need a good defensive structure. Every little puzzle piece, no matter how different, needs to fit into another to make the overall best picture possible.
“To single out one or two will be difficult because each player adds to the success of the team,” she added.
Clarendon has been drawn in Pool B, alongside Pretoria High School for Girls, St Mary’s Waverley, Maris Stella, and Our Lady of Fatima Dominican Convent School.
Playing at their best, with smiles on their faces, is what Muller will require from her charges during the weekend and for the rest of the season.
She said they will use the National Aquatics Festival as an opportunity to work on their game and to gain experience against other top schools,
‘The goal for every coach is to have a team that performs at its best,” she said. “My goal, as a coach, is the same, but sometimes, seeing a smile on a player’s face is way more rewarding than a ranking in a tournament.
“That being said, we are placed in the top 10 water polo schools in the country at the moment, and I would love to start chipping away and improve that ranking slowly.
“We are very pleased to have the newly built Fina-accredited Harrison Aquatic Centre, shared with the primary school, providing a top facility for the development of strong water polo players and swimmers,” she concluded.
Clarendon will kick off their tournament against Pretoria High at 14:40 on Friday.
Find all the teams and fixtures for the National Aquatics tournament, HERE.
Avuyile Sawula is a multimedia sports journalist, broadcaster, and writer. He possesses a journalism qualification from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. During his time in the media industry, he has worked for various online media publications covering big matches and events across the country. He also has a broadcasting background having worked as a news journalist at one of Cape Town’s commercial radio stations. His reporting beats include hockey, rugby, water polo, and cricket. Apart from writing, he has a knack for creating sports content, and video editing.