Youngster creating waves in the pool
Ella Dowling-Cavaye may be the baby of the Southland under-16 girls' water polo team but you wouldn't have known it from watching her play yesterday.
The Southland Girls' High year eight pupil, who has only just turned 13, turned in an excellent showing for her province at the under-16 division one nationals at Splash Palace in Invercargill.
Ella scored two goals in the upset 7-6 win over Christchurch's QE11 Crushers team, and displayed maturity and skills which belied her age.
She also stood out in Southland's opening game of the tournament on Monday, scoring the team's first goal of the championship in a 18-4 loss to title favourites Marist Red.
Southland coach David Bowie said Ella was an incredibly talented young water polo player and had a huge future.
"She often looks at the bench with a big smile, when she wins that battle," Bowie said.
"It's amazing to watch her in the pool. She isn't afraid to tackle the big kids. She's great on defence and is getting a lot better on offence."
Ella, whose cousin, Grace, is also in the Southland team, said they were delighted to pick up a victory in front of their home supporters.
"We worked as a team a bit better and listened to the coach," she said.
Hosting the division one nationals meant Southland's squad were exposed to a higher level of water polo, which would only make them better players.
Bowie said if the championships were not being played in Invercargill, Southland officials might have considered sending the girls' team to the division two tournament in Rotorua instead.
"They need to use the division one nationals as a learning experience and see what (the other teams) are doing and imitate it," he said.
Ella first became involved with water polo five years ago, after her mother suggested she attend a trial.
Like most water polo players, she is a competent swimmer, with her strongest event being backstroke.
She went away with the Southland under-16 team to the Pan Pacific water polo youth festival in Auckland this year, and competed against New Zealand, Australian and American opposition.
The experience was a real eye-opener for the Southland girls, who came up against some top quality opposition.
Ella's impressive play caught the attention of the New Zealand age-group coaching staff, who have identified her as a name to watch out for in coming years.
"At the Pan Pacs, she was the youngest player at the tournament," Bowie said.
"If the coaches had asked who the youngest player was, no-one would have said Ella.
"She plays above her years."
Ella will not doubt be hoping to follow in the footsteps of her Southland under-16 team-mate Lilly Tomlins, who was named in the New Zealand under-15 team this year.
She said Lilly was a great role model, and was always happy to provide her with advice on her game.
Ella will play for the Southland Girls' High year nine and 10 team, and senior side in the Friday night secondary school water pool competition during term four.
Bowie said water polo was popular at junior level in Southland.
The challenge was to get more players progressing through into the senior ranks.
"We've got so many junior players playing but we lose many coming up to the deep end," he said.
"Our big focus is to identify these ones and keep them interested and get them up the deep end.
"We'd like to have two teams of every age group."
Southland's next game is against Mountfort Park, from Manurewa, today.
- © Fairfax NZ News