The Bahamas’ 17-and-under water polo team fought valiantly in the seventh-place match against Peru, but lost 9-8, at the 2019 Swimming Union of the Americas (UANA) Jr. Pan American Water Polo Championships on Friday afternoon. The match was played at the National Aquatics Centre in Balmain, Couva, Trinidad & Tobago (T&T).
That loss gave Team Bahamas an eighth place finish at the tournament. Peru ended up seventh.
The match was close from beginning to end. Team Bahamas struck first, going up 2-0. Peru roared back, tying the match at two at the end of the first period. They kept the ball rolling, scoring the first two goals of the second period to double up the Bahamians, 4-2. They scored on a perimeter and a penalty shot. With under a minute left in the second quarter, The Bahamas managed to pull within one goal, and Peru went into the half up 4-3. In the third quarter, the score was tied at five before Gabriel Sastre, the top goal scorer for The Bahamas, was ejected from the game. That proved to be a game changer as he was a huge part of The Bahamas’ offense.
Peru led 7-6 at the end of the third quarter, and it all came down to crucial moments in the fourth quarter.
“The guys fought. I told them to don’t feel down. Score your goals and fight for The Bahamas and fight for your pride and they did,” said Team Bahamas head Coach Laszlo “Coach Lotty” Borbely. “Peru sensed that our guys were not at the top of their game, and that we lost our best goal scorer.”
With the score tied 8-8 in the fourth quarter, Peru found the back of the net one more time, going up 9-8. Borbely sent the goalkeeper up as a part of the offense in the final seconds. The goalkeeper took a shot that hit the post and with 12 seconds remaining, and The Bahamas could not get the ball back.
Peru held on 9-8.
This represented the first time The Bahamas Junior Water Polo Team qualified and played in the UANA Jr. Pan American Water Polo Championships.
“Obviously, we were rookies having never been to this level. It was very interesting to meet with people from bigger countries. Those guys on those teams do nothing else but play water polo. They are very dedicated, strong and experienced. We had to learn and understand this on our own – this is what we were facing,” said Borbely. “It was very important that we were represented. It was very important that the UANA leaders, referees and president saw that there is a water polo life in The Bahamas. They saw us fighting and the spirit of The Bahamas that they never seen before from the Caribbean. Everybody was very encouraging and nice to us as well as surprised as to how well we played.”
The turning point for The Bahamas, according to Borbely, was the 9-9 tie with Trinidad and Tobago the day before. He said that The Bahamas showed that they can play water polo and beat other teams, and that they were not a little team.
Borbely said that he and his coaching staff have work to do as they prepare the players to play at the world stage against teams like the United States, Brazil and Argentina.
The players will have a week’s rest and will will return to practice on Monday September 2 at the University of The Bahamas’ pool and the Betty Kelly-Kenning National Aquatics Centre.” Borbely said they will teach children to swim and play water polo. He added that tryouts are open for anyone from ages 9-13 who wants to play.
Next up for the team internationally is the 2020 Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation (CCCAN) Water Polo Championships. This will be for 16-and-under and can qualify the team for the 2021 17-and-Under UANA Pan American Water Polo Championships.
Team Bahamas was represented by Nicholas Whitfield-Wallace, Jelani Grant, Dominic Beneby, Dominic Demeritte, Gabriel Encinar, Jahkai Gray, Alexander Gomez, Aidan Johnson, Oliver Roberts, Jayden Seymour, Alexander Turnquest and Sastre.
Borbely was assisted by Daniel Stojanovski, and FINA (International Swimming Federation) referee Anthony Knowles, physiotherapist Michelle Roache and chaperone Anitrah Rolle rounded out the delegation from The Bahamas.
Borbely said Team Bahamas showed a lot of fight in their games. With more international exposure, Team Bahamas will have an opportunity to go further into tournaments and qualify for higher level competitions.
The United States won the gold medal game 19-8 over Brazil. Argentina won 13-6 over Canada for the bronze medal. Colombia took care of the host nation 22-11 to claim the final qualifying spot for the 2020 World Junior Championship. The top five teams advanced.