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Delray Beach’s Emelie Poirier said the fledgling East Coast Water Polo program wasn’t hoping to win gold at the recent Sunshine State Games at the Coral Springs Aquatic Center.
The Florida Atlantic University sophomore said it was more about growing as a team. She turned 19 during the competition, so she was still age-eligible for the 18-Under girls’ team in the tournament.
“The expectations coming into this tournament was to learn as a team and to work together,” said Poirier, whose team was started just six months ago. “We are a new team and we had to start somewhere.
“I think this was a very good foundational part,” she said. “We have good coaches that support us. Even though we are new, and may not be the best yet, we’ll get there.”
The East Coast Water Polo 18-Under girls’ team finished out of the medal round but gained valuable experience against some of the top club programs in the state.
“Taking a chance on a new program is exciting,” Poirier said. “We get to see not only your own progress as a player but the team in general. You start from the bottom and you can only go up. To see that and everyone else is really rewarding.
“Water polo is a big part of my life,” she said. “I have been playing forever. I started as a swimmer and transitioned to water polo. The ball is nothing without me and I am nothing without the ball.”
It also marked the first time that Poirier had a chance to play with her 15-year-old sister, Amanda.
“It is one of the greatest things because we never played together,” Emelie said. “This summer was the only time we got to play together and it will be something that I am going to remember for the rest of my life.
“It’s awesome playing with my little sister since it is her first year in water polo,” she said. “I got to teach her a little bit and put her under my wing and let her fly herself as soon as I leave.”
East Coast Water Polo 18U girls’ coach Marco Barrera said the main goal of his new team was to gain experience. In addition to training at Boca Raton High School, they also opened a satellite program in West Palm Beach. The club was founded by two long-time members of the water polo community — Kurt Predmore and Jorge Montero.
“This club is fairly new,” said Barrera, who was part of the club’s launch back in the winter. He also is the coach of the Suncoast High School water polo teams. “We wanted them to see what the other teams were doing and to show them how to prepare.
“The more they play, the better they get,’ he said. “They gain an understanding of what needs to be done. I think it is going smoothly. We still have a ways to go, but so far it has been great. We are getting numbers and people are showing up. We are turning high school players into club players and that is always a challenge, but it is working. We want them to learn the game. The biggest part is the mental game.”
Anna Rosen, who is with the East Coast Water Polo Program as one of its lead coaches, served as tournament director of the Sunshine State Games for the third straight year.
“It is one of the only tournaments where you will see multiple generations within the same family playing water polo,” Rosen said. “That’s amazing. You will see parents and grandparents playing in the open divisions and the kids playing in the younger divisions. I love that.”
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There were 800 athletes competing in eight divisions from U12 teams up to adult open teams. The teams came from Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, and a lot of presence from the South Florida water polo community.
Matt Guse has been vice president of operations for the Florida Sports Foundation since September 2020.
“It’s great for us as an organization, but it is more important for these athletes to finally have a place to go out and compete and kind of get a little bit closer to normal,” he said. “This is huge. You look at some of these adults and they have been playing this game for 20-plus years regularly.
“Having to take a year off was pretty significant,” Guse said. “I am sure they are beside themselves for the opportunity to be competitive again. It is inspiring to see the older players still competing. We had the Senior Games back in December and we had about 2,000 athletes for that. Athletes of all ages are ready to be back out here. A tip of the hat to any 50-year-old still competing against a 20-year-old.”
The National Senior Games have been pushed back from November 2020 to April 2022, and the Florida Senior Games will take place in Broward County in December.
“I think that is going to be great,” Guse said. “We are going to use some of the venues that Nationals will use, so the athletes will get a chance to scope that out, so we think it will be a great fit. When they held Nationals in Albuquerque, I think they had upward of 14,000 people, so it is massive.”