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Ottawa keeper Jessica Gaudreault takes stride in right direction at water polo worlds

By Mark Colley

It may not have been the result Team Canada wanted — a ninth-place finish at the women’s water polo world championships — but for Ottawa goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault, it was a journey back to the top of her sport.

Gaudreault, a veteran on the team, was relegated to being an alternate at the Olympics last year, a decision she now says was “really difficult.” But after a seventh-place finish for Team Canada in Tokyo, Gaudreault has worked her way back into a starting job with the team.

At the world championships, held in Budapest, Hungary from June 17 to July 3, Gaudreault received the majority of the minutes in goal, alongside fellow Canadian goalkeeper Clara Vulpisi.

“I took some time away and just thought about what I could do to make sure that I don’t get put in that type of situation again,” Gaudreault reflected.

She said she focused on being “as positive as I always could” and always giving 100 per cent.

“Not that I wasn’t before, but I think that the way that you approach it or the way that people perceive you to be can make them change their opinion on how hard you’re working,” Gaudreault said.

Canada went 1-1-1 in pool play at worlds, including a 7-7 draw against Italy in the first game of the tournament. Gaudreault played all but 28 seconds of the match, saving 65 per cent of shots.

Italy went on to finish fourth in the championships, losing in the semifinals to the United States. The world-championship-winning U.S. water polo team has now won four consecutive titles at worlds.

Gaudreault said the opening game against Italy was a strong defensive game, but that the team struggled after that, especially offensively.

“We probably had the hardest route in the entire tournament,” Gaudreault said. “We had two strong games in our pool and then the hardest crossover game.”

Gaudreault said the offensive struggles of the team were partly due to its young roster, with five athletes playing in the world championships for the first time. A big focus over the next year will be developing stronger chemistry within the team.

“We know what we have to work on,” Gaudreault said. “Next year, [the new players] know what to expect and what is expected of them.”

After being knocked from the playoffs with a 10-7 loss to the Netherlands, Canada won its two remaining classification matches to finish the tournament in ninth place.

Jessica Gaudreault at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games. Photo: Steve Kingsman

Team Canada goalie adds coaching duties to her portfolio

In January, Gaudreault was named assistant coach of the University of Michigan water polo team. Michigan won its conference this season but lost in the first game of the NCAA national championship.

“Our girls did really well for the season and it was cool having my first experience as a coach in the NCAA getting to go to the national championships,” Gaudreault said.

Gaudreault said the transition from playing to coaching has been relatively smooth. As a goalie, she’s used to telling the defense where to go and what to do.

“I find it easier to coach in the water because I’m so used to that point of view and seeing what people need to work on,” she said.

The steepest learning curve has been learning the macro side of the game — thinking about why other teams are using certain plays, as well as why her team is choosing certain plays.

“As a player, you get so wrapped up in being competitive,” Gaudreault said. “Now I see it as Xs and Os and putting people in places … I never really thought of it in that aspect beforehand.”

Gaudreault said she hopes to continue her development as an athlete and coach and already has her eyes on the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.

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