With the growing number of major competitions during the traditional ‘European season’, there is an increased focus on club competitions. However, for one Aussie Stinger, there is nothing that can replace representing her country.
“Playing for Australia is always the best part of my year,” Australia’s left-hander Abby Andrews tells Total Waterpolo.
In particular, the 22-year-old from Brisbane is amped with the prospect of returning to Japan – the place where she became the third youngest Australian player ever to represent the Stingers at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
“Returning to Japan is super exciting for me as it was definitely a place where I realised that I am a strong international player, and these last two years have been filled with huge personal growth. Tokyo for me was insane. I had no expectations for the Olympics back then and truly believed my role was to be ready for short stints off the bench in extreme circumstances. I was completely wrong with this expectation, finding myself receiving a lot more water time than this and pushing my own standards higher.”
Since Tokyo, the Australian team has changed in profile, with a younger, less experienced team than the one that finished 5th at the postponed Olympic Games. A changing of the guard also took place on the bench, with Paul Oberman taking over from the departing Predrag Mihailovic after the games. Andrews, now a more established player, hopes she can lead from the front:
“I am still young and learning, so my hopes are to improve each game of the World Championships and be a strong contributor to my team whether that involves assists, goals, or strong defence.”
Andrews comes into this competition firing on all cylinders, finishing as the Italian League’s top goal-scorer after a hugely successful spell with SIS Roma during the 2022/2023 season. The experience as a whole for the left-hander establishing herself in the Italian capital has been a big boost.
“I was thrilled to have performed how I did. Not only did I learn a whole new approach to tactics and general gameplay, but I also realised my ability to compete and play against some of the strongest players in the world, which was huge in boosting my confidence both in and outside of my national team.”
Andrews wasn’t the only Stinger making her mark in Europe, or even Italy. Alice Williams, alongside Bronte Halligan, ended as an Italian Champion with Ekipe Orizzonte, finishing the season as their top goal scorer. Gabi Palm impressed in Spain with Mediterrani, and Tilly Kearns was formidable with USC Trojans in the United States.
“All of our girls who competed in Europe this season were massive contributors to their respective teams, and definitely after being reunited with the Australian team are each bringing new skills and methods to help enhance our preparations and work as a unit. It is evident that we have the skills, we just need to combine all of them cohesively, and then the results will come.”
Australia finished in a respectable 6th position at the two major international tournaments in 2022 (World Championships, Budapest & World League Super Final, Tenerife). However, the Stingers fell flat at this year’s World Cup, failing to qualify for last month’s Super Finals. Andrews puts the Stingers’ absence into perspective:
“Obviously missing this event was difficult for the team. Missing any international games comes with pros and cons. Given the proximity to the World Championships, it would have been great to get more international experience as a team, but there are also positives of missing this round. We have been able to watch and analyse all of the teams’ recent performances while also focusing on ourselves back at home and have put in the tough, physical preparations needed to get us completely ready to attack these World Championships.”
Instead, ahead of Fukuoka, Australia has been preparing back home and spent a week acclimatising to the weather with training camps in Singapore – a place where their head coach, Paul Oberman, was head of performance before taking the Stingers’ job.
With regards to Fukuoka, Australia will expect to progress from their group, shared with the USA, France, and China, at least in second place. “We are going into Fukuoka focusing on the results game by game.”
“We have matched up with China recently, so we hope to build on this performance and deliver a strong result. Obviously, France is an exciting nation also building towards Paris, so this will be an exciting game to play as they are quite a new opponent for us. The game against the USA will be huge. Having trained with them prior to the World League at the end of last year, this game will allow us to apply this prior knowledge and build on our matchups for this challenge. This game should be a thriller.”
Fukuoka is an important stepping stone for Australia in terms of Olympic qualification. With a year to go until the Paris Olympics, Andrews shares the plans in place for the Stingers ahead of the games.
“We have all identified the importance of being together for the Olympic season, hence from January we are all required to be together. Missing the European season has its challenges as we will not have the same exposure as we did in the previous season; however, we are not the only country absent from this season. We are looking to have substantial periods of time over in Europe next year, competing and training where we can, as well as looking at training blocks in America and elsewhere to ensure we are well prepared for the competition come the Paris Olympics.”
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