The Australian women’s water polo team, the Aussie Stingers, will this month embark on a four-week world tour to Montenegro, Rio de Janeiro and the USA for a trip that head coach Greg McFadden has earmarked as a litmus test for his Rio Olympic hopefuls.
While initially hoping to announce his Olympic training squad at the conclusion of September, McFadden stopped short of putting pen to paper after all athletes invited to Sydney for the first hit out did enough to keep themselves in the frame for selection.
Now a further month down the track, and with a three-week training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) behind them, McFadden says he will be using this tour to see which players can be relied upon in high-pressure situations against strong teams.
“We are looking for players we can rely on, there is a lot of pressure at the Olympics so we are seeing who can handle it and not falter at key moments,” McFadden said.
“We have games with the USA, China, Canada and the Netherlands lined up throughout the trip and all will offer up really good competition.
“Over the last two camps the girls have trained the house down and put in solid work. They have really gelled well as a team, and I think at the end of the tour we will have a good idea of the squad we want in the lead up to Rio, and I hope to announce it in the first week of December.”
While the performance of the athletes is one aspect of preparation, the tour will also be used for collecting data pertaining to the recovery and sleeping patterns of the team while overseas, the study coming at the recommendation of team physiologist Sally Clark and AIS recovery specialist Nathan Versey.
“We are looking for players we can rely on, there is a lot of pressure at the Olympics so we are seeing who can handle it and not falter at key moments”
Akin to a study conducted by Swimming Australia earlier this year, which simulated the late night racing schedule of the Rio Olympics, McFadden said that the sleep monitoring would provide key information to refine the Stingers final preparations for Rio.
“The last two Olympics in Beijing and London were both places we had toured to before and we had enough information on sleep to not need to conduct a similar study,” he said.
“Because we haven’t been to Rio it was suggested by Sally and Nathan that we need to gather this data now to ensure that come the Olympics, we arrive in the best possible shape and are ready for the first couple of games.
“For accuracy our tour will see us first travel to Montenegro to simulate our plan to travel from Europe to Rio for the Olympics. We need to test how long it will take to get over jet lag and have the team firing on all cylinders.”
The team of Rio hopefuls will include captain Bronwen Knox and centre forward Gemma Beadsworth, who both have their eye on a third Olympic campaign. Alongside them will be Ashleigh Southern, Glencora McGhie, Holly Lincoln-Smith, Nicola Zagame and Rowie Webster who will all hope to be selected for their second successive Games.
Also included will be goalkeepers Lilian Hedges and Kelsey Wakefield as well as field players Keesja Gofers, Jayde Appel, Isobel Bishop, Hannah Buckling, Zoe Arancini and Bronte Halligan who are all vying for their first Olympic call up.
One notable omission from the squad is goalkeeper Lea Yanitsas, who bolstered the Stingers defence at this year’s FINA World Championships. McFadden outlined that at this point in time, a soon to be announced tour to Japan will be more beneficial to Yanitsas in her quest for a place in the final Rio team.
“We want to give Lea the best preparation for Rio that we can, and we feel that throwing her into a month of intense competition could put her at an injury risk at this point in time,” McFadden said.
“It also gives us a chance to trial our other goalkeepers on the road and make sure they have all had an equal opportunity to stake their claim for a place in the squad.”
The Aussie Stingers will depart for Montenegro on Thursday October 29, returning from their final leg of the trip in the USA on Monday November 30.
Aussie Stingers Rio Test Team
GK’s: Lilian Hedges (WA), Kelsey Wakefield (qld)
Field Players: Zoe Arancini (WA), Jayde Appel (NSW), Gemma Beadsworth (WA), Isobel Bishop (NSW), Hannah Buckling (NSW), Keesja Gofers (NSW), Bronte Halligan (NSW), Bronwen Knox (QLD), Holly Lincoln-Smith (NSW), Glencora Mcghie (WA), Ashleigh Southern (QLD), Rowie Webster (VIC), Nicola Zagame (NSW).
Head Coach: Greg McFadden
Assistant Coaches: Eddie Denis, Dalibor Maslan
Support Staff: Miranda Wallis (Physiotherapy), Lynne Morrison (Manager), Sally Clark (Physiologist, Montenegro and Brazil) Reginald Hatch (Consultant, Montenegro and Brazil), Daniel Flahive (Official/referee, Brazil and USA), Etienne Du Preez (Doctor, Brazil), Tamara Kefford (Performance Analyst, Brazil and USA)