Sydney University Water Polo Club rewrote the National Water Polo League (NWPL) history books in the 2016-17 season, becoming the first club to finish minor premiers in the men’s and women’s competitions and then the first club to appear in both grand finals.
The club claimed both Southern Cross Trophies for finishing minor premiers (the men for the third successive season) and retained the Peter Kerr Trophy for the best combined men’sand women’s club.
The women’s team then won a nail-biting final against Fremantle Marlins at PLC Pymble Aquatic Centre to become the first team to go through the season undefeated in claiming back-to-back titles.
Sydney University’s men’s team were on the verge of creating more history, chasing a men’s-women’s double, but fell 6-5 to UNSW-Wests Magpies in a gripping finale.
The NWPL women’s grand final was a classic season-ender. The Lions kicked out to a 2-0 lead but let that slip to trail 3-2 before managing to level 3-3 at quarter time. Both sides were tentative in the opening fray, with the Lions managing only three shots in the first period, all of which were converted.
A penalty from dual Spanish Olympian Anni Espar was the only score of a tight second period and the Marlins muscled-up to keep the third quarter at 2-2. The tension was evident in the last quarter with Fremantle levelling with a late strike from the outside. At 8-8 after regular time a penalty shoot-out ensued and the pressure mounted.
Each team converted their first three shots before Lions goalkeeper Lea Yanitsas made a crucial save. But the Lions missed the potential match winner and the game went down to the final “Freo” shooter. She missed and Sydney University claimed the title.
Espar was named as the Lions representative in the NWPL All-Star team. The new-look Australian Stingers squad was also named after the grand final and Sydney University was well represented with Yanitsas, Keesja Gofers, Isobel Bishop, Hannah Buckling and rookies Brooke Dickie and Tilly Kearns included.
New Australian head coach Sakis Kechagias named Rio Olympians Gofers, Bishop and Buckling in the Australian team for the FINA World League Intercontinental Tournament at the Schaal Aquatics Centre at the University of California-Davis in the US in early May.
The Tournament is a qualifier for the FINA World League Super Final in Shanghai from 6-11 June and an important stepping stone for the side on the road to the World Championships in late July.
Meanwhile, Sydney University’s Under 20s team made it through to the grand final in the Women’s NSW Age Championship, where they lost 7-5 to Drummoyne Devils. Lions Mia Willows, Brooke Dickie, Bridget Johnston (GK) and Sophie Hodgson all made the Tournament Seven. The club’s Under 14s finished fifth at the same Championships, putting them in good stead for the Nationals.
On the men’s front Olympian Johnno Cotterill was named in the men’s NWPL All-Star team after they went down 6-5 to UNSW-Wests Magpies in the grand final.
Sydney University had already won First Grade, Second Grade and Third Grade in the Sydney Metro Men’s competitions and were looking to continue the trend. And, with the women’s side having already visited the middle step of the rostrum, the pressure was on the Lions.
They came out firing, taking a quick two-nil lead over the Magpies in the first quarter. They extended that to a 5-3 advantage at half-time. But the Magpies lifted their intensity in the second half, keeping the Lions scoreless while netting three goals themselves to bring the scores to 6-5 with four minutes on the clock.
A mistake in the last possession almost saw another penalty shootout, but the Magpies were able to hang on to the lead with a great save by captain Joel Dennerley from 3 metres out to give his side the trophy.
Cotterill’s form warranted his selection in the Australian side to contest the FINA World League Intercontinental Tournament at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre at the end of April.
Australia went through the tournament undefeated with Cotterill scoring twice in the Sharks’ 8-6 win over the US in the final. He had already netted six times in the lead-up matches.
Despite the men’s narrow defeat in the NWPL grand final, Sydney University Water Polo Club Operations Manager Ian Trent said it has been a season to remember on the local and international fronts.
“There are plenty of people to thank, including Women’s Head Coach Alicia Smith, Men’s Head Coach Dusan Krstic, Women’s Club President Simon Lewis and Men’s Club President Antony Green,” he said.
Scoreboard: National Men’s and Women’s Water Polo League Grand Finals
Women – Sydney Uni Lions 12 (Keesja Gofers 3, Anni Espar 2, Isobel Bishop 2, Danielle Morrissey, Sophie Hodgson, Madeline Rosenthal goals) defeated Fremantle Marlins 11 (Glencora McGhie 4, Madeline Quinn 3, Zoe Arancini 2, Pia Rodgers, Lauren Martin goals) in a shoot-out, at Pymble Ladies College Aquatic Centre.
Men – UNSW-Wests Magpies 6 (Richard Campbell 4, Jarrod Gilchrist 2) defeated Sydney University Lions 5 (Jeremy Davie 2, Tom Kearns, Michael Rosenthal, Chris Dyson goals) at Pymble Ladies College Aquatic Centre.