Bright Young Things
Britney Rolston refuses to let her age be a barometer of her strength on the water, writes Talia Shadwell .
A 17-year-old Palmerston North Girls' High pupil has become the newest and youngest member of the New Zealand women's canoe polo squad.
Hard-paddling Levin schoolgirl Britney Rolston trains six days a week, and is driven to compete for New Zealand on the world stage.
She was shoulder-tapped during a trial for the New Zealand under-21 women's team.
She originally trialled for that team last year, aged just 16, but was told to try out when she was a little older. So she was taken aback when selectors asked her to skip the transition grade altogether.
"I wasn't expecting to make it into either of those teams as I didn't think I was quite ready so I was shocked when they asked me to join the senior women's."
Her new team-mates are vastly more experienced than Britney - the second-youngest player has five years on her.
But the confident young player refuses to let age be a barometer of her strength on the water.
"I think I'm pretty good at the moment, they have a lot of respect for me just because I don't take my age as an excuse. I have been playing for years so if I stuff up, I take responsibility for it . . . they just respect me for who I am."
Britney had never played canoe polo before she began at secondary school. Sports injuries sustained playing rugby forced her out of contact sport and into the pool. When first introduced to the sport in year 8, Britney took to canoe polo like a fish to water.
She trains six days a week - in Levin, at Hokowhitu Lagoon, and in the pools at Freyberg and Palmerston North Boys' High School.
Years paddling for her school team and in secondary schools tournaments has honed her skills that led her into spots in the Manawatu Valkyries and Central region teams.
The game is short. Just 20 minutes is split between two halves and each side's five players have only a brief window to make their mark, requiring explosive power on the water to get the ball home quickly.
Britney says the camaraderie of the tight-knit canoe polo scene is one of the factors that drew her to the sport. But she favours a tough love approach on the water.
"I like the aggression . . . It's such an adrenaline rush because it's a short, intense game."
Britney is comfortable as a goalie but will be used as a sprinter in the New Zealand squad. If she continues to impress she will get a chance to compete at the canoe polo world series in France in 2014.
Palmerston North Girls' High canoe polo team manager Jo Wilson says Britney's dedication has driven her to become the best paddler the school has seen.
"And she has put a lot back in, for a young person. She has been running the Tuesday night competitions for all the school students."
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