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Q&A with Holly Roberts: The rising water polo star juggles school and sports

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Holly Roberts plays water polo for Marist Magic. Photo / Spontaneous moments

Baradene College’s Holly Roberts has been selected for the New Zealand Under-18 water polo team and will travel to Belgrade, Serbia this August.

17-year-old Roberts speaks to NZME about juggling school, soccer and water polo and her hopes for the future.

How did you react when you found out you’d made the New Zealand U18 team?

It was a really emotional moment for me to see something I’ve obsessed over for so long become a reality. But most of all, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all those who helped me get to this point in a sport I love so much, especially my parents and all they sacrificed for me.

At what point did you realize you wanted to pursue water polo further?

When I started water polo as an 11 year old I was accepted into my club’s C team without any of my close friends, but I made my way up and had incredible coaches who gave me the chance to play at older age groups. This was a big part of my realization that I could have a future in water polo as a sport and that it’s something to set big goals around. I am fortunate that my Marist Water Polo Club trainer, Gabryel Masina-Oloapu, gives me unmatched opportunities. At 13 I played for my club’s U16 senior team and then at 14 for the U18 senior team.

What is it like playing in club sport with much older players?

I think the most nerve-wracking but incredible experience was making my A-women team for Marist at 14, where I was absolutely devastated by teammates and opponents alike. But for me this was one of the key areas of my sporting and character development. Playing with far more experienced, stronger and smarter girls has taught me so much about water polo as a sport.

Tell us about your involvement in football.

I play football for Baradene College’s first eleven and am in the premier squad for Eastern Suburbs Football Club. Last year I was also selected for the New Zealand Football Regional Training Centre. Football has played a very important role in my development as an athlete.

How do you choose the code to focus on?

As many young athletes have experienced, prioritizing one sport over the other when you love two or more is quite a painful process. For me came the realization that if I continued to be so divided between my sports, I was in danger of not making it to the national level (which is where I’ve always wanted to be). The pressure that school brings has made me really focus on the opportunity to make the New Zealand youth water polo team and do everything in my power to make it there. I still love my football so I have every intention of continuing to play both codes and see where they take me.

What does a week of training and school look like for you?

My schedule includes a great mix of different activities like strength training, swimming, water polo and soccer practice, but it’s the weekends when the real fun begins. Water polo coaching for Baradene until Friday evening, followed by my own water polo and soccer games on Saturday and Sunday. As much as that sounds, I always seem to find time to finish school, I promise!

What do most people not know about water polo?

A large part of water polo takes place underwater where no one can see. It is therefore important that you are resilient enough to assert yourself. I get kicked, scraped, punched and held under water, but that’s a normal part of the sport. What happens in the pool stays in the pool because, despite its highly competitive nature, water polo has an incredible, tight-knit community that is great to be a part of.

What are the next steps for you in your water polo career and possibly other codes where you could find success?

Looking beyond Serbia, my next steps will hopefully include signing at a college in America, where I hope to continue both my athletic and academic paths. Ultimately, I want to do my best to reach my potential, which is undoubtedly the goal of many of us.

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