By Katharine Sherwood
Fresh off of the Golden Titans’ victory at the 19U Eastern Conference Championships, 18-year-old water polo star Diego Gonzalez has his sights set on the National Championship League finals in Calgary in late May, and then eventually, the Olympics.
Gonzalez has competed in the past at the international level at the FINA World Men’s Youth Water Polo Championships, but he highlighted the Ottawa-held conference championships as a special moment in his career.
“It was one of my more important moments in my water polo career just because it was the first time we’ve won eastern nationals and our first time actually going to the national championships,” Gonzalez explained.
Andras Szeri, the team coach for the Golden Titans (which is a team combined of members from the Ottawa Titans and the Toronto Golden Jets) also discussed how incredibly excited he was about this victory.
“After about 25 years of coaching, this is still probably the greatest victory I have ever had,” Szeri said. “It would have been sad if this group of athletes had never experienced going to the national finals because they are really talented.”
The Golden Titans trip to gold at the Eastern Championships was ripe with tough matches, like their semifinals game against Quebec’s Dollard Water Polo Club and their finals match versus Toronto’s Mavericks Water Polo.
Gonzalez said his team had no confusion about how difficult their semifinals matchup would be, as it was the game that determined whether or not they would qualify for the national championships.
“Leave it all in the water,” Gonzalez told himself before each match.
Szeri said when he was addressing the team before each of their matches at the event that he told them he believed they could win gold.
“On paper we are the best team in the country, now we just have to show them why,” Szeri said as he described his pep talk.
Beyond aiming for the national finals, Gonzalez set another goal for himself last year: Crack Canada’s Olympics roster.
“I just haven’t kept it out of mind when I go to practice or whenever I play games that I have to keep working hard to get to that goal,” Gonzalez said.
When Gonzalez began playing water polo it didn’t start with a dream of reaching the Olympics, it was more simply because he found the game incredibly entertaining when he tried it out at a summer camp. This experience led him to take up the sport recreationally before switching later to playing competitively. But the sport has never lost the essence of fun, he said.
“I just like the feeling of a big game where your heart is racing [and] the adrenaline is pumping,” Gonzalez said.
He says he still chases this feeling – one that he doesn’t take for granted.
Gonzalez tore his meniscus last summer while he was training. The next day he couldn’t move his knee and he was left unable to train with a mind full of worries that he would miss his chance to compete in his first ever world youth championships. To his benefit, he made a quick recovery and was able to train again after three weeks of rest and returned in time for the event. The experience of fighting for this dream is what he says has been the greatest accomplishment so far in his young career.
“I think (Gonzalez) is going to be in the national team one day and I think he is going to make me and the club very proud,” Andras Szeri said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how far he can take the sport.”