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