ESTEVAN - The Estevan Sharks water polo program has been around for a long time in the city, and always manages to secure at least one medal in every provincial tournament they go to. This past weekend was no different, bringing back medals in both the development and minis division.
“The minis, they’re all new players, other than two returning ones. None of them have played tournaments before this year, and they’re coming together pretty good, for such a new team,” said Chad Knoll, the Sharks atom division coach. “We’ve had a few competitions; Weyburn, Regina and provincials, in Saskatoon, which was new for most kids.”
He goes on to say that while the minis and atom girls had a successful weekend, each respective team ending up on the podium, but the atom boys were, unfortunately, not as successful as the girls.
“They lost out in the bronze medal game, 10-7, which put them in fourth place,” Knoll said.
The lack of experience was a driving factor behind their loss, he said.
“They’re mostly new players, and they do alright, for half the team being new, but they definitely need a little more practice.”
Despite the relatively fresh and inexperienced players this year, the Estevan Sharks have been dominating their age groups.
“They’ve been doing really well. They took first in the Weyburn tournament, and we had to split the team in Regina, where one of the teams, the Prairie team, won first place. And then in provincials we won gold,” Knoll says.
He has been involved with the Sharks for years, as his daughters became more and more involved with water polo.
“My youngest daughter Meredith is in the Sharks, she’s a first-year atom player this year, after a few years as a mini,” His other daughter quit this last year, due to personal reasons, but Knoll has stayed with the club, even going so far as to mentor the new minis coaches.
He said he’s noticed an uptick of enrollment this year, perhaps due to the pandemic affecting how Estevan sees sports, especially aquatic ones, with all the protocols and safety measures in place.
“I think we’ve definitely attracted more new players [over COVID], especially in the atom and minis age group,” Knoll said. “We don’t have any new players in bantam or cadet age groups. But I think overall, we gained more this year than we gained in the past few years for new enrollment.”
He explained, reminiscing on the small number of players Estevan used to have: “I remember watching [the bantam and cadet team] practice a few years ago and there were only five kids. Those same kids had made up the atom team a few years prior.”
Knoll goes on to talk about COVID-19, and the impact the quarantine and safety protocols affected the Sharks, specifically the older age groups.
“COVID’s impacted a lot,” he said. “Some of the older players haven’t returned. We lost the majority of our bantam age girls, as well as some bantam boys.”
As for safety protocols on deck, no vaccination mandate has been set on the Estevan Leisure Centre, so the coaches and players are obligated instead to wear masks on deck, just up until they get in the water.
Although the Sharks still have half of their season left, with their next tournament being held in January, a few of their older players have had a lot of success on the provincial level. Two of the most experienced Sharks girls travelled up to Regina to play for the Team Sask. under-15 team in November for the National Championship League SaskOpen tournament. One of those players, Rachel Tober, even traveled with the team to Calgary for their nationals.
“I think it’s one of the things that grabs those younger players, makes them want to become more competitive,” Knoll says. “For all those far away tournaments they can play in.”