A pair of South Surrey water-polo athletes returned home from South America this week with bronze medals, after both of Canada’s under-17 national teams finished on the podium at 2017 Pan American Championships.
Held in Lima, Peru, the international tournament – which wrapped up Sunday – features some of the top young water-polo players on the planet, including 16-year-old Ocean Park resident Garrett Davis, who was the youngest player on the Canadian U17 boys team, and Gabby Mantyka, a Surrey native who suited up for the country’s U17 girls squad.
The trip was a long one – team members left for Peru in late June – but the lengthy time away from home, not to mention the long travel days to and from, were worth it, said Davis, a member of the Langley-based Fraser Valley Water Polo club.
“It was a great trip. Super long flights – (Monday) was a 22-hour day – but it was great,” the Earl Marriott Secondary student told Peace Arch News less than 24 hours after returning home.
“It definitely flew by, and honestly, I sort of miss it (already). I wish I had another week there. Water polo is pretty big over there and you get treated like you’re a famous athlete. We had police escored to and from the pool, there were always at least 150 people in the stands watching all our games – it was crazy.”
In the pool, the the U17 boys team finished with a 4-2 record, with the only losses coming against the United States and Brazil, who finished the tournament with gold and silver medals, respectively. In the bronze-medal game, Canada edged Colombia, 13-12.
“We definitely went into it with the intention to medal, but you never know how it’ll go,” Davis said. “The United States and Brazil are the two main powerhouses… but to get bronze is pretty cool.”
For Davis, one of the highlights was Canada’s first game against Puerto Rico, in which the South Surrey teen scored two goals.
“To score your first goal internationally, for your country, was just an amazing feeling,” he said.
Mantyka’s U17 girls team also finished in third position, and claimed the final spot on the podium with a convincing 17-6 win over Argentina.
“This was a good way to end our tournament, we started off strong and were able to control play throughout the game. The girls showed a lot of character coming back and playing this way after a disappointing semi. Overall this tournament was a great learning experience for the girls… They showed a lot of resilience which made the coaching staff proud,” said Dan Bekhazi, the head coach of the U17 girls team, in a news release.
By finishing in the top-five in their respective competitions, both Canadian teams have also qualified for FINA Youth World Championships next year.
“That was our goal heading in – to finish top-five and qualify for worlds. So to qualify, then to get a medal, too – it was win-win,” Davis said.
“To have both teams to finish with bronze, it was really exciting and I think a lot of people at (Water Polo Canada) were pretty happy.”