College Sport: Polo golden girl aiming for stars

By Campbell Burnes

One of country’s top performers keen to build skills overseas.
Emily Nicholson is hoping her efforts at the Pan Pacific Youth tournament will get noticed by US colleges. Picture / Jason Oxenham
Emily Nicholson is hoping her efforts at the Pan Pacific Youth tournament will get noticed by US colleges. Picture / Jason Oxenham

When the Westlake GHS water polo premiers need some inspiration or leadership, or just a goal in a tight match, they invariably look to Emily Nicholson.

The 17-year-old senior student certainly leads by example. Last year she scored no less than 102 goals, while she has racked up 53 so far in 2016, making the centre forward one of the top schoolgirl players in the country. In fact, she has been part of the senior New Zealand women's squad and narrowly missed selection for their Olympic qualifiers in the Netherlands last month.

Nicholson herself is too modest to blow her own trumpet, but a modicum of research throws up the fact that she has won a stack of MVPs over the last few seasons since her first tentative dip of the toes into the sport via flipperball.

And while Westlake lost their North Island schools semifinal last week, Nicholson was adjudged one of the tournament's outstanding players. Not for nothing was she a 2015 water polo finalist in the ASB YSPOTY awards.

After an intense last week, which started with the school ball and continued through the North Islands and into last Friday's Auckland final, lost 5-7 to close rivals St Cuthbert's, where she scored two goals, Nicholson is now focused on the schools nationals this month in Wellington, where Westlake enter as the two-time defending champions. Nicholson was the 2015 MVP.

"I think after the North Islands and how we didn't place where we wanted, we are all determined. For five of us, it's our last nationals ... and we really just want to finish well," she says.

Among that senior quintet is head girl Nadia Pavlovich, a close friend and long-time teammate since they first combined in Year 9. The duo have co-captained since Year 11, which shows you the respect with which they are held within the team.

Nicholson pays tribute to the coaching of Steve Knights, who has taken Westlake, in just four years, from the also-rans to the top of schoolgirl water polo.

"Mainly he's strong on us working together as a team. That's a really big help for us."

Nicholson's work ethic is beyond reproach. She'll be in the Millennium Pool most weekday mornings by 5.30am getting in her swimming mileage and might not arrive home from North Harbour club training until after 9.30pm. Somehow she finds time to coach the Westlake GHS Junior Bs, also working at the Glenfield Leisure Centre where she coaches intermediate schoolkids. Luckily she now has her driver's licence.

In July she will again be busy playing in the Pan Pacific Youth tournament in Auckland.

"That's massive. Teams from Australia and the USA come over. I'll play for North Harbour in the Under 18s and 20s. So that's my holidays booked!"

That will be an important event for Nicholson in more ways than one.

"During the Pan Pacs, I think I'll really try and get my profile out there and get some video footage to send out to US colleges [for scholarships]. The training over there is more tactical and technical, more intense, so I'm picking it [to] be a cool experience that will make me a better player."

Expect to see her again in NZ Schools and Youth squads before heading Stateside next year. But that is down the track. For now, the schools nationals beckon.

College Sport now breaks for the school holidays and will return on May 11.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 27 Sep 2016 10:23:20 Processing Time: 480ms