NZ U17s Water Polo squad heads for the States

By Moana Makapelu Lee

17 year-old Stanford Pogai is making waves in water polo. The up-and-coming athlete was recently selected for the New Zealand U17 team Water Polo team which will tour Montenegro to train besides some of the world's best junior water polo athletes. 

Before he was born, Stanford was destined for the water. 

Stanford Pogai (Ngāti Hikairo) says, "One of my grandfathers of my dad's side, he played for Samoa and he went to whats called the Pan- Pacific games and my grandpa on my mother's side, he coached the commonwealth games so it's been an influence on me so I can look up to them and say this is the reason I'm doing it and just to say that it's not lost."

Pogai was identified at the age of 11 by his current coach Rahiti Teokotai-White as a player of the future. He spent the next five years training vigorously to make the NZ U17 squad. 

Pogai says, "Being that I'm one of the few Māori Pacific Islanders in this sport it's nice to show that we don't have to dominate in just rugby and just sports that we're really good at, but also in water polo, there's a few of us but we play we really well. And it just goes to show that it may not be one of main sports that we play but if we put a bit of effort into it we can do it."

The ultimate goal now is developing the team and lifting NZ's world rank as they look towards the FINA Junior Water Polo World Champs next year.

Pogai says "The purpose of it [Montenegro tour] is to develop all of our players and give them a bit of international experience and also it's development for the 018 Junior World Championships which the boys who go to Montenegro will get picked for Juniors worlds next year."

Although Stanford will miss next year's junior champs as he pursues his church mission, the young athlete says he hopes to follow in his grandfather's footsteps. 

Pogai says, "I'll enjoy maybe being put into the Olympics if I keep training and playing hard if it happens it will be amazing."