NZ U-21 men’s ca­noe polo seek gold in Si­cily

The Tribune (NZ) - - COMMUNITY COOKBOOK - COLLEEN SHEL­DON

While Olympic Games com­peti­tors have been in the sports news most nights, a small group of Palmer­ston North Boys’ High’s ded­i­cated pad­dlers have also been train­ing hard for their own ver­sion of the pres­ti­gious games.

The New Zealand un­der-21 men’s ca­noe polo team will be com­pet­ing at the 2016 ICF Ca­noe Polo World Cham­pi­onships in Syra­cuse, Si­cily, in late Au­gust.

The eight-man team is made up of one cur­rent and four for­mer Palmer­ston North Boys’ High School stu­dents, three of whom are head­ing to their sec­ond World Champs.

Palmer­ston North’s Sam Hapeta will cap­tain his sec­ond New Zealand rep­re­sen­ta­tive team to the champs and re­calls the buzz of com­pet­ing for his coun­try.

‘‘Ol­lie (Maassen), Aaron (Crabb) and I have seen this all be­fore. We came back from the 2014 Worlds so ex­cited and hope­fully the boys see that in us.

‘‘The at­mos­phere is un­real and you get goose­bumps from hear­ing the Na­tional An­them and when your name gets called out.’’

He is con­fi­dent in his team’s abil­ity to bring home the gold medal and says there’s noth­ing wrong in striv­ing for gold. ‘‘The only rea­son I’ve stayed in the side is we’ve got such a strong chance at get­ting gold. The team we are tak­ing is a gold-medal team.’’

Sam, who turned 21 ear­lier this year, has spent the sea­son play­ing in NZ tour­na­ments but now the sea­son has ended, has gone to Ger­many to play sum­mer league ahead of the main event.

‘‘We’ve had six play­ers train­ing to­gether reg­u­larly at the Hokowhitu La­goon and it’s as close to full team train­ing as you can get con­sid­er­ing play­ers are cho­sen from through­out New Zealand. But with win­ter, we are only touch­ing a ball at week­ends here, whereas there’s a tour­na­ment ev­ery week in Europe.’’

To get the team ac­cli­ma­tised prior to the World Cham­pi­onships, Sam and the rest of the team will meet up in Bel­gium in mid-Au­gust for the Gekko Tour­na­ment in Ghent and the De Pad­del Tour­na­ment in Leper, be­fore fly­ing to Si­cily for the World Champs and to greet their NZ sup­port­ers.

‘‘The sup­port we get is tremen­dous. You’re up against the top Euro­pean teams and the chant goes up.

‘‘You can re­ally hear the New Zealand crowd and it ab­so­lutely spurs us on. It’s un­real.’’

New Zealand un­der-21 men’s ca­noe polo team are: Sam Hapeta (cap­tain), Ol­lie Maassen, Aaron Crabb (now Auck­land), Cole Hawkins, Alex Nieuwen­huis, Ruifa Huang (Christchurch), Con­nor Tay­lor (now Palmer­ston North) and Ethan Flan­ders (Hawke’s Bay).

PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Palmer­ston North’s Sam Hapeta will again cap­tain the un­der-21 men’s ca­noe polo team as they strive for gold in Italy.

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