Matilda (Tilly) Kearns is one of 18 in the frame for a place on the final Born 2000 women’s squad and is hoping to realise a childhood dream at the FINA Youth World Championships in August.
Tilly, as she is better known to her family and friends, always knew she wanted to wear the green and gold.
“I started playing with Sydney Northern Beaches Breakers (SNBB) and as I got higher throughout the age groups I made my first New South Wales team I thought I actually want to go to the Olympics for this one day,” she said.
This sentiment is a far cry from what Tilly first thought of the sport at the age of 13 when she started.
“At first I didn’t really like it because I didn’t really get it. I did it for four weeks and it was barely water polo, it was like bull-rush with a ball.
“I stopped playing it and then came back the next season and because I was bigger than everyone I was good and I started to like it from there,” she said.
With a potential selection in a Water Polo Australia high performance squad, Tilly knows exactly where she wants to get to.
“My ultimate goal is to eventually play for the Aussie Stingers.
“Short term I just want to go to training and really put everything into the sessions, so I can get to my goal of being an Aussie Stinger one day,” she said.
For an aspiring Olympian she has some great examples close to home with three Aussie Stingers in her OVO Australian Water Polo League side, the Sydney University Lions.
“It’s so good being around them. Hannah (Buckling) is always giving me tips on how to beat the centre back because she is one.
“Iso (Isobel Bishop) and Keesja (Gofers) are just so knowledgeable on the game… they see it from an outsider’s point of view. They’ll give me tips on how to play outside and then inside and how to work for the ball,” she said.
Not only does she have three current Olympians to learn from, guiding her Lions team is one of the pioneers of the women’s game in Australia and Olympic gold medallist, Debbie Watson.
Success is not foreign to Tilly having won three National Aged Club Championships with her SNBB side.
Matilda’s latest national gold medal came during the Easter long weekend this year. There wasn’t much time for celebration though as she headed into a Born 2000 Women’s training camp in Canberra.
“I loved the camp, it just sparked my love for the sport again. It was really tactical, it was about learning the plays and combinations.
“It was one of my first camps with the girls, I clicked with a lot of the girls and it’s building the culture really well for the FINA Youth World Championships,” she said.
Looking ahead to this major international tournament can be daunting for young athletes, however Matilda knows what the team has to figure out if they are to have a chance at success.
“I think we’re looking pretty good, we just need to be able to get into the mental space that we can go over there and do really well.
“It is scary knowing how tough and strong your opponents are, but once you’re in the water everybody is the same that’s just how you have to view it. The referees are so much tougher, they pick up all the small things, but it’s just so much fun over there,” she said.
As one of four children and the daughter of former Wallabies captain, Phil Kearns, she says competition runs fierce within her family.
“We all do different sports (water polo, rugby, rowing and touch football), so there’s no competition within our sports, but there’s always a fight to be the favourite child or to be in a spotlight.
“Mum and Dad both try to pretend like they know what they’re talking about, but it’s more just the encouragement and motivation which helps me,” she said.
For this young centre forward coming through, in the end water polo was an easy decision.
“I love being in the water, I’m definitely not a land sportsperson, I couldn’t run 100m, but I could swim forever, I love it.
“Swimming was just boring and I played a bit of netball, so I guess if you combine the two it’s the perfect mix,” she said.
Matilda and the Born 2000 Women’s squad will be conducting their final training camp ahead of the FINA Youth World Championships team selection in Sydney beginning July 8.
Born 2000 Women’s squad attending Sydney training camp:
ANDREWS, Abby – Barracudas, QLD
ANDREWS, Charlize – Polo Bears, QLD
BALLESTY, Hayley – Breakers, NSW
DALZIEL , Kasey – Polo Bears, QLD
FREEMAN, Abbey – Cronulla, NSW
HALLIGAN, Inde – Breakers, NSW
HANSFORD, Macy – Drummoyne, NSW
HAWTHORN, Lily – Sydney University, NSW
KEARNS, Tilly – Sydney University, NSW
MATHER, Brooke – Drummoyne, NSW
MILLIKEN Sophie – Breakers, QLD
NEWELL, Maisie – Sunshine Coast, QLD
OBERMAN, Jamie – Tritons, WA
PAMP, Isobelle – Breakers, NSW
SWADLING, Ruby – UNSW Wests, NSW
THOMAS, Nioka – Balmain, NSW
TRAPLIN, Carla – Sydney University, NSW
WEST, Alyssa – Jets, SA