Waterpolo team hopes to surprise in the pool

If the Canadian Olympic Team was selecting its water polo squad for the 2020 Summer Games, there’s a good chance that a few of the Open Maccabi Men would be in the mix for a trip to Tokyo.

With a number of Maccabiah Games alumni, who double as members of the Canadian national team, the team about to dive into the pool in Netanya is undoubtedly Canada’s best edition to date.

While the medal hopefuls are now ready to dawn their suits and caps, as late as last May, for Maccabiah Games alumnus Jason Hillcoat, the idea of competing at this summer’s Games was treading water.

It was only after re-connecting with fellow Maccabiah alumnus Marshall Young at Team Canada’s training camp that they both decided to give it a shot.

“The Games are a great way to experience water polo at an international level,” said Jason. “The community is unbelievable, you get to know athletes from around the world and make friendships that will last a lifetime. Just to experience an international event as big as the Games is an honour in its own.”

“The two of us competed together in Israel and used to play together,” he added. “When I was living in Saskatoon, I played for Team Saskatchewan and then qualified for Team Canada. When we met up at the national level, Marshall suggested that we put together a team for this summer’s Games.”

The idea led to Jason reaching out to fellow alumni Jordan Deskin, Daniel Tripoli and Andrew Camilleri and overnight, half the team committed, jumping in with both feet.

“I reached out to other athletes via social media as well as to all the water polo clubs across Canada,” said Jason. “Soon enough, there was enough interest for a training camp, and within weeks, we had arranged one in Montreal.”

That initial camp translated into this summer’s team, comprised of seven athletes from Montreal, as well as one from Regina, Calgary and Toronto, respectively.

Well aware of the competition they were going to face in Israel, the group has come together every three months for a weekend of training in Montreal. The team has been fundraising since last May to offset costs of practices and the Games itself. Jason credits the generosity of friends, family and many others who have enabled them to achieve their monetary goal and focus on preparation.

“We believe that these Games will feature the hardest competition ever assembled,” said Jason. “Hungary is going to be one of the stronger teams and Israel will also prove to be tough with athletes from their national team playing. With that being said, there’s a good chance we’ll compete for a medal. I think were going to be in a good position.”

Win, lose or draw, Jason and his team are nonetheless excited to pack their bags and get the competition started. After a year of practices, they’re poised to make their mark and perhaps, return Canada to the podium.

“I’m looking forward to playing, we’ve been training hard and we’re excited,” he said. “I can’t wait to show off the Canadian team.”

Yet, even though the torch has yet to be lit for the 20th Maccabiah Games, Jason already has his sights set on the future. While most teams go their separate ways following the competition, he has lofty goals for his squad, a tight knit bunch that would like to keep their chemistry going well beyond 2017.

“We’re young enough to play in next year’s Pan Am or the European Maccabiah Games,” he added. “Our plan is to close it out in Israel in four years.”