By Martin Cleary
After a decade of playing water polo, Mackenzie Greco took a break this season to coach the girls’ 15-and-under competitive team with Capital Wave Water Polo and Swimming.
“I didn’t want to leave the water polo world,” Greco said in a phone interview Wednesday.
“I just loved seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces. I used to coach little kids six to eight (years old). I’d teach them how to swim, pass the ball and hold the ball. It’s giving back. The kids go home and tell their parents everything they learned.”
Greco saw a little bit of everything in her inaugural high-performance season as a coach, starting with some player disagreements and whining, but finishing with a united team that won the season-ending gold medal at the Eastern Canadian water polo finals in Etobicoke, ON.
The core group of the Capital Wave girls’ 15U team had been together for a few years when Greco walked onto the pool deck last September to serve as their head coach. Greco’s former youth teammate Valeria Rojas served as assistant coach.
“Going into the season, I had no expectations,” Greco explained. “As a player, I would get my hopes up and it would be too high. It was my first year as a National Championship League coach.
“Walking into the season, I was super excited and nervous, knowing I would be building relationships and being their coach. I wanted to get to know this wonderful, beautiful group of girls and go with them until they age-out (of junior water polo).”
The National Championship League was created by Water Polo Canada in 2014 to bring the 15U, 17U and senior programs together and promote the development of the sport. After playing monthly tournaments during their regular season, the teams gather for regional and national championships.
The first two months were somewhat “rocky” as Greco put it with “some ups and downs.”
“There was some little-girl conflict. The normal drama. But we came together,” said Greco, adding the team couldn’t always get to use the full pool for practices.
The players thoroughly enjoyed the scrimmage sessions, but weren’t always keen on building their endurance by swimming countless laps or working on tactics.
“There was a lot of complaining, but it led to a championship at the end of the year,” added Greco, who represented Ontario and Canada during her youth career.
The Capital Wave A girls’ 15U squad was one of the top three teams entering last weekend’s Eastern Canadian championship along with Montreal’s CAMO and Toronto’s Shadow.
The Ottawa-based team opened with two strong and impressive victories, defeating Mavs City 30-3 on the first day, and Shadow 16-1 and Ottawa Titans 6-5 on the second day.
The three wins qualified Capital Wave for the championship game, but the rematch with Shadow was the total opposite of its preliminary-round match.
Capital Wave rallied to tie the championship game and earned the gold medal with a 7-6 shoot-out decision.
The Eastern Canadian girls’ 15U championship also saw the Ottawa Titans finish in fourth place and the Capital Wave B team take eighth. In the boys’ 15U championship, Capital Wave was fourth and the Ottawa Titans took sixth.
By the time the girls’ 15U championship game was played last Sunday afternoon, Greco was exhausted.
“I was very tired. I’m a full-time student,” said the Algonquin College diploma of education, business marketing student. “But I really wanted them to bring home the gold. With COVID finally over, a win was really needed.
“I wanted the gold more than ever. But I wasn’t sure how they’d react. But I must trust them because they trust you.”
The final was stressful for Greco as she was watching the championship game as a coach and not as a player.
“I have never had so many heart attacks in my life,” Greco admitted. “Going from being a player to a coach, it’s a different feeling. The girls swam hard, had opportunities for goals and played amazing defence. But they couldn’t put the opportunities into the net. But we scored enough to tie them.”
As the shootout played out, Greco lost track of the score and when Capital Wave scored that game-winning goal, she wasn’t even sure they had won. That gold-medal moment was confirmed when her players ran off the pool deck and jumped into the pool to celebrate the win. Moments later, Greco and Rojas had their gold-medal dunk in the pool.
“It was an indescribable feeling,” Greco said. “The girls pushed us in as ‘a thank you’ and we came out wet.”
At the awards ceremony, Capital Wave was front and centre, winning three of the four individual awards – Alexandra Wilson (most valuable defensive player), Charlotte Anderson (most valuable goalie) and Greco (most valuable coach). The awards were voted on by the Eastern Canadian championship coaches.
One of the main defenders on the team, Wilson worked tirelessly all season, not only attending regular team practices, but also two extra training sessions a week as part of Capital Wave’s high-performance program.
Anderson trained hard to build her strength and conditioning, which allowed her to soar higher out of the water to catch or deflect opposition shots. She communicated well with her teammates to build a strong trust and bond.
Greco was caught off guard, when she earned her most valuable coach award.
“I was a little surprised. I didn’t expect that award, since it was my first year. Getting the award has meant a lot to me. It’s hard for me to believe I’ve made a mark in the athletes’ lives.”
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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