The Canadian women dominated at the UANA Junior Pan American Championship in Florida a few weeks ago, and Abbotsford’s Brianna Utas was a big part of the club’s gold-medal-winning performance.
Utas, a Yale Secondary grad, captained Team Canada to a perfect record of 5-0 at the event, and the club outscored its opposition by 47 goals over those games.
Canada took down Brazil 12-9 in the final on July 15, with Utas scoring a first quarter goal. She said battling the Brazilians in the pool is always tough.
“It was a very physical game and Brazil is so strong and scrappy so we knew going into it that it was going to be a challenge,” she said. “But we a got lead early on and just ran with it.”
Canada led 5-2 after one and then 8-3 at the half to hang on for the gold-medal win. Utas said her team developed chemistry very fast, and it paid off at the tournament.
“Everything just clicked for us,” she said. “Shots were going in left and right and our counterattack fell into place.
“I was pleasantly surprised with our results and how the tournament went. A gold medal is always what you strive for and we achieved that.”
Canada opened the tournament with an 8-7 win over Brazil on July 10, and then crushed Argentina 29-9 on July 12.
Canada then defeated Puerto Rico 21-8 on July 13 and upset the United States 19-9 on July 14 to advance to the final.
Utas said the win over the United States was an impressive result.
“We beat them by 10, which was kind of a shock to all of us just how badly we beat them and on their home soil,” she said.
She added that she was thrilled to be named captain of the team, and it was something she will remember.
“It was such an honour,” she said. “The coaches had a meeting with each player about who would be a good fit for the role and it was my teammates that voted me in. It was really surprising but just such an honour.”
Being a captain isn’t exactly new for Utas – she has had the role playing with both the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club and the Fraser Valley Storm, but the Junior Pan-Ams was the first time she had captained a national team.
She collected eight goals over the five games, and adds the gold medal to previous golds won at the Youth Pan American Games in 2016 and a U16 world championship gold in 2015.
Utas will next travel to Montreal to train with the national team until December.
She still has Olympic dreams, and would love to be on the 2020 Canadian women’s water polo team, but said it’s more likely she will fight for a spot on the 2024 Olympic team.
After her time in Montreal, Utas will join the Pacific University Tigers women’s water polo team. Utas said she’s excited to join the Stockton, Calif., based program in the NCAA.
“It’s a private university with smaller class sizes and it just felt like the perfect fit,” she said. “Their water polo program is really growing and I want to be a part of it. I fit in well with the girls and love all the coaches there. It just felt like a second family when I went there.”
The Tigers finished with an 18-8 record in 2018, and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals. The club returns to the pool in January.
For more on Utas and the team’s performance in Florida, visit waterpolo.ca.