By Mark Etheridge

Anything the boys can do, we can do better… that certainly seemed the case for the national Under-17 women’s water polo team.


Last month the boys’ side reached the final of the EU U17 Nations Cup in Austria where they went down to Malta in the final. Shortly afterwards the women went to Odense, Denmark and dominated from start to finish to win the girls version of the Nations Cup and beating Czech Republic 15-3 in the final.

The 13-strong squad was coached by Pearson High teacher Luke Manthe and went unbeaten in all their five games.

Last year ago the South Africans had lost to Czech Republic on penalties in the final and Manthe says ‘that defeat set the mood to step up and keep the same standard this year.’

The team got together two weeks before the tournament and had a training camp in Durban, followed by a three-Test series against Zimbabwe’s U18 side which they won 3-0. Coach Manthe also roped in the services of sports psychologist Wesley Kew who helped the group built team values and establish a standard of what was expected during the week in Denmark.

‘The first game of the tournament was against Switzerland where South Africa were the dominant force and won 32-2,’ says Manthe. ‘The Swiss couldn’t handle the pressure and quick counters of our girls. The second game was expected to be the highlight of the pool stages pitting last year’s finalists against each other but South Africa walked out victorious 19-6. South Africa kept their composure throughout this game even though it was very physical from the Czechs.The last game of the pool stages was South Africa v Ireland. The Irish had held the Czechs to a tight game in the pool stages but South Africa dominated from the start and won 21-1.’

The two semi-finals featured SA v England and Malta v Czech Republic.

Czech Republic proved too strong against the Maltese and the South Africa-England game promised to be an exciting game. England had started as tournament favourites so South Africa were under pressure to perform. But once again, they showed great determination and efficiency and strength and took control of the game to win 17-3.

That brought us to the final, a repeat of last year and the South Africans thought long and hard about what could be expected of the Czechs and how they would play them. But the team went into the game in extremely confident frame of mind, backing themselves to get the job done.

Says Manthe: ‘The final was by far the most exciting game of the tournament where the team built up a great atmosphere as they sang ‘shosholoza’ which was a goosebump moment amongst the spectators. The quality of water polo played during the tournament as well as the true sportsmanship shown by the South Africans had won over the hearts of all the teams and the crowd cheered and sang for the South African team.

‘The first chukka was completely dominated by South Africa with an early opening goal from captain Hannah Muller. At the end of the first chukka South Africa were in control and up 5-0.

‘The South African team kept their heads up not dropping their guard and the halftime score was 8-0. Entering the third chukka in full control South Africa seamed to lose their bearings slightly, going down 3-2. Going into the final chukka South Africa were up 10-2 and proved too strong with their defence on top form and managed to score another five goals.

‘What an incredible result from this waterpolo savvy team. And there was more honours for us with goalkeeper Daniela Passioni being named the best player of the tournament.’

Looking to the future and Manthe is hugely upbeat. ‘Comments were made on the pool deck that this is one of the strongest teams they have seen come out of South Africa. If this age group remains together and hang around until U20 they will most definitely be a powerful force to be reckoned with in the future. The talent in this age group is wild.

‘This team will try out for the SA U18 team which will travel to New Zealand in December to compete at the World Junior Championships in Auckland while the next big tour for this age group will be Tri Nations in December 2017, unless we can find another tournament to attend soon.’

The squad was made up of the following players: Daniella Passoni – Gauteng (St. Mary’s Waverley), Ashleigh Vaughn (vice-captain) – Eastern Cape (Pearson High School), Cassandra Day – Kwa-Zulu Natal (Kingsway), Nina Bohata – Kwa-Zula Natal (St. Mary’s Kloof), Ayanda Maphumalo – Kwa-Zulu Natal (Durban Girls College), Hannah Muller (captain) – East London (Stirling High School), Logan Isola – Western Cape (Reddam House Constantia), Casey McCleavy – Eastern Cape (Pearson High School), Sydney Jacobs – Western Cape (Pinelands High School), Bianca Prinsloo – Gauteng (St. Stithians College), Chloe Meecham – Eastern Cape (Stirling High School), Kristin Ibbotson – Eastern Cape (Stirling High School), Meghan Maartens – Eastern Cape (Collegiate)

Coach: Luke Manthe

Manager: Hayley Yon

Leading goal scorers: Muller (17), Vaughn (15), Ibbotson (15), Prinsloo (13), Meecham (10)


Pictured above are a happy Nina Bohata , Meghan Maartens, Casey McLeavy and Ayanda Maphumalo.

Captain’s comment (Hannah Muller): ‘Our tour all started when we met in Johannesburg two days before we left for Denmark. We had a training camp and physiological sessions to get us all on the same page. The sessions were very good for our team to bond and make sure we all have the same goal put into place – one of the quotes we learnt from that was ‘there is no such thing as failure, only feedback’

‘Our team bond is irreplaceable no-one can break that apart. Finally we left Johannesburg , knowing we are going to be traveling far and long but we were still super excited to play. Having flown over 15 hours we finally landed in Denmark, knowing we were hitting the cold very soon. We were all ready and packed for the freezing weather – beanies, scarfs.

‘We met other teams (England and Switzerland) at the airport as well as on the bus trip to our accommodation. We started trying to get to know some of the players but wasn’t always easy because of the language barrier

‘Winning all our pool games as well as our semi final gave us a real decent chance of winning the gold medal.

‘On the last day we all swopped costumes and shirts with the friends we had made the the other teams but still not forgetting it was finals for us. Nothing changed when we went into finals, the same mindset. We did our normal 30min stretches and then we would got changed and ready to play but never forgetting our ‘wake up, shake up’ routine, we would do a little dance before every game to get us keen and ready – it was a fun way of warming up and well as getting our heads in the game.

‘Walking up to sing our anthem was very emotional knowing you are playing for all the people back home and knowing that they are rooting for you. What I think it’s amazing is the fact that we scored a total of 103 goals and only let in 15 goals which is fantastic. This tournament was awesome with the best players ever – we are not only a team we are a family.’

Vice-captain (Ashleigh Vaughn), in main picture: ‘What an awesome experience! Before we left for Denmark the girls and I were extremely nervous and not 100% confident in our abilities but after a series of successful sessions with Wesley we left Joburg knowing that we could create our own reality and win without being arrogant.

‘Day one was successful as we won all our games and this winning streak continued the whole tournament. We beat Switzerland 32-2, Czech Republic 19-6 and Ireland 21-1 which put us in the semi-finals where we beat England 16-3.

‘We then went on to win the finals against Czech Republic, improving our score from our pool match.

‘The laughs and memories made will be unforgettable and it was an honour playing with such an amazing bunch of people. This experience was too amazing for words, but I am so grateful that I was apart of the team that won gold at the 2016 EU nations.’

– See more at: