When the water polo competition begins at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha this Sunday, NSWIS will be represented by eight scholarship athletes with Zoe Arancini, Keesja Gofers (pictured above), Sienna Green, Bronte Halligan, Sienna Hearn, Danijela Jackovich, Tilly Kearns, and Genevieve Longman suiting up in the Stinger’s battle colours.

The Head Coach of NSWIS’s water polo program, Jacki Northam (JN) – photographed (right) with Bec Rippon, and herself a world championships gold medallist – took time out to provide her insights on how the Aussie Stingers, who came fourth at last year’s championships in Japan, could fare in a tournament that’s expected to cast a light on which teams to watch at this year’s Paris Olympic Games.

NSWIS:  These championships provide Australian with a great opportunity to get on the podium after finishing fourth at last year’s world championships. What role will NSWIS’s athletes play in trying to do that?

JN: Fourth place was  a really good result for Australia at the last world championships, which was only five or six months ago and it’s worth noting that since then there’s been changes in the coaching staff. We have eight NSWIS athletes in the team and I believe they’re going to really dominate. They’re ready to perform, and they’re going to perform well. There are some tried and tested athletes in Bronte Halligan and Tilly Kearns, while we also have Keesja Gofers who has a 10 month old little girl. Her comeback is such a great story. We also have Sienne Green, who at 19 years old is heading into this world championships, and I’m telling everyone to watch this space! I have no doubt under [new national Head Coach] Bec Rippon’s guidance we’ll have a good tactical approach, and everyone will be on the same page. I think they’ll perform very well.

NSWIS: Well, Bec Rippon has been elevated from Head Coach of NSWIS’s Water Polo program to Head Coach of Australia . . .  what will her expectations be for the team?

JN: You go there to win; you don’t go there to be happy to finish sixth. Bec will have very high expectations around teamwork, individual performances, and behaviours. She’ll be expecting the whole team to be on the same page to perform. The expectations will be high, and whether that results in a medal we’ll wait and see – but here’s hoping!

NSWIS: You mentioned Keesja Gofer’s return to the Stingers from motherhood, how significant a story is that?

JN: It’s an inspirational story because there’s so many female athletes whose international careers came to a halt when they had a baby. I think Keesja, and others, have paved the way for female athletes to become mothers without having to give up their sporting dreams. It’s been an ultimate effort as Keesja was working hard even after she fell pregnant. I mean, two days before she gave birth to Teleri she was in the pool! There’s that saying ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, and I think in the future she’ll be seen as a great inspiration for other female athletes.

NSWIS: Why have you nominated NSWIS athlete Sienna Green as a player we ought to be watching during the world championships?

JN: She’s just returned from a year at UCLA and is back in the NSWIS environment. She has come back stronger and grown into her body. Sienna is 6ft 4 (1.93m) and she’s ready to unleash on the world. She’s a Sydney University player whose parents played water polo, and I’m so excited for her.

NSWIS: How are you finding being in charge of the NSWIS squad, and what are your expectations of the players?

JN: It’s really exciting to be the Head Coach at NSWIS. The Stingers are away, and we have four athletes who are in the greater Olympic squad. So, they’ll continue training until the Residential Camp which is on in about four or five weeks’ time. It’s important for me and our Performance team to work with the players to help bridge the gaps that Bec has identified. I want to really hone in on those gaps so our athletes go to the Residential Camp and show they’ve worked on those things because I want them to have the best possible chance to push into the Stinger’s 15.

NSWIS: The New South Wales Institute of Sport aims to develop our athletes into ‘world’s best’ – how are you doing that?

JN: With lots of early mornings! (laughs). Look, we have a group of enthusiastic and incredibly talented athletes who are willing to do whatever we ask them to do. We have a great performance team that helps prepare the athletes with strength and conditioning, physiotherapy, dieticians  . . . it’s about rounding out and developing the whole athlete, not just in the water.

NSWIS: Jacki, can you let us know what you’ve taken from your own playing career and applied to your coaching?

JN: It is so important in a team environment that each member has the same goals. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, and because everyone is different, you’re not going to click with everyone. But, as long as you’re on the same page and your prepared to work for each other; you trust each other in the , well, that’s a solid foundation.

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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