Worthing Swimming Club competed in the Boy’s Under 15 National Age Group Water Polo Championships at the Manchester Aquatic Centre on Saturday. Here Alastair Roberts describes the events of what turned out to be an historic day for the club.
Worthing swimming club was founded in 1890 and throughout the 128 year history we have enjoyed a great deal of success in swimming, diving and water polo.
The club had made one previous appearance in a national water polo final but that was in 1901, and perhaps the fact that we lost to Manchester Osborne was a good omen for the weekend when we made the long journey north to the impressive Aquatic centre that opened for the 2002 Commonwealth games.
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We entered the junior water polo Championships as recently as 2005 when we rather unluckily lost a close quarter final to the eventual winners who just happened to be Manchester.
We had targeted an entry into this event for around the last 12 months when we realized that we had a talented core group of players who potentially could be competitive. Our development through playing regularly in the London League and incorporating a number of the boys into senior training sessions has been impressive but in all honesty, nothing prepared us for the events of Saturday.
First up we had to contend with what a number of the other coaches present happily termed the “group of death” which would see us play Manchester (them again, defending champions in their home pool) along with Sedgefield from the north-east who have a long tradition in junior water polo.
In our favour, the Manchester v Sedgefield match was the opening game which gave us the opportunity to study what we would be up against but we still anticipated two tough games. These are the individual match reports; -
Match 1. Worthing 15, Sedgefield 4.
Quite simply we demolished what was a decent opposition but they had no answer to our pressing defence and speed of counter attack. Time and again we turned the ball over scoring regularly as a result. We were able to “manage” the second half of the match making good use of the bench players.
Match 2. Worthing 9, Manchester 1.
Home pool, big crowd, defending champions but no problem. Probably one of the pre-event favorites and with a long history of success in junior national events, we obviously knew that this was a key match. The format meant that to have any chance of winning overall we had to finish top of the group and we spent time before the game detailing the oppositions key players and how we could exploit what we perceived as weaknesses. And so it proved, we dealt brilliantly with the Manchester “star” players and ruthlessly exploited the weaker ones. At times they tried to play a zone defence to stop our centre forwards and we scored from distance. They changed to a press so we put the ball to our centre forward and scored that way. A dominant display and although Owen in goal did make a number of saves we could have kept a clean sheet.
As a result of topping the group we were then in the second round with Nova Centurion and Birmingham and although we had not been able to see either play we obviously anticipated tough matches against two other group winners.
Match 3. Worthing 9, Birmingham 6
Same tactics, same result. Birmingham were the best team that we played and were based on the West Midlands team that won the inter regional competition that was played last December.
We made an excellent start and quickly led 3-0 which saw the opposition coach call a time out to try and change their tactics. They made a change, but it made no difference, and although this was a tough game we led comfortably with 3-4 minutes remaining and as a result we “managed” the game to its conclusion.
Another big win and we knew that if we could beat Nova we would be in the final.
Match 4. Worthing 13, Nova Centurion 4
Another dominant display against the talented Nottingham based team. Once again our tactics meant that we controlled the play and we continued to expose teams on the counter attack scoring time and again when we turned the ball over.
We managed this game well again in the later stages resting some of the key players ahead of the final which we now knew we would be playing in.
Having qualified for the final we spent time watching the match between the two teams that we presumed we would play. This was a close affair between Sheffield and Bristol but after the game concluded the organisers confirmed that we would actually be playing Watford for the trophy and the gold medal.
This was good and bad. We have played Watford many times in the London league in this age group over the past couple of years and we have always won. But that was London League and this was a national championship final.........
Match 5. Championship Final. Worthing 10, Watford 2
Another dominant display when our now well practised tactics proved far too strong for for a Watford team who looked tired. Once again we gave next to nothing away in defence and we scored time and again from open play, particularly on the counter.
At half-time we realized that we were very close to a historic win and once again we manged the remainder of the match making sure that we offered no Watford no way back. And so it proved, we won the final of a national championship by a comfortable margin but it was never as easy as it may look.
It was a remarkable win and I’m pretty sure that very few people saw it coming. I would admit to being one of them. But we did win and the official report is available on the Swim England website at - https://www.swimming.org/waterpolo/worthing-worthy-winners-u15s-national-age-group-title/
The report does not make mention that we also had the winners of the three tournament individual awards. Josh Luff was named most valuable player, Jamie Bond was top goal scorer and Owen Street best goal keeper. The full squad was as follows; - Owen Street, Josh Luff, Jamie Bond, Matty Smith, Max Hubrich, Aidan Johnson, Matthew Johnson, Rico Newman-Morgan, Henry Broadhurst & Zach Kingett.
On reflection we owe a great deal of thanks to a huge number of people. The club support water polo and make things like this possible. We have a number of people who give up their time to help coach. Our sponsors, particularly Worthing based Roffey Homes, continue to offer help financially. Parents “buy into” what we are trying to do and we travel many miles trying to find competition. And we also have three girls in this age group in Caitlin, Grace and Ruby who have been a huge part of the team as it has developed over the past couple of years and they deserve great credit for what they have contributed.
It was a long way home on Saturday night/Sunday morning, and we could have done without the M6 having been closed, but it didn’t really matter after a fantastic and ultimately richly deserved national championship win.