After years of excelling at the local and provincial level, Abbotsford’s Brianna Utas is getting some well-deserved national attention.
Since September, the water polo star has been training in Montreal with the Canadian women’s national water polo program, and in October she made the cut to make the 18U women’s water polo team.
“It’s going to be huge. I’m really excited about it,” she said. “It’s going to give me an eye-opening of what it’s like at the international level, and it’s going to be a great opportunity.”
For the month of September, Utas participated in approximately 65 practices competing for a spot against some of the brightest young female water polo players in the country. She’s managing to keep her schoolwork up to date with online studies in between the practices.
The sport wasn’t always on her radar, though. Utas played a number of different sports growing up, including softball, basketball, speed skating, volleyball and rugby. But a suggestion from her swimming coach led her to water polo.
“I started summer swimming and saw there was water polo and decided to try out,” she said. “My coach insisted I try because I had the size and athleticism and it started from there. I developed a love for the game; it’s a really interesting sport and very challenging.”
Utas originally suited up for the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club, and her run there was highlighted by a tournament win at the U16 club national championships in Calgary in the summer of 2015. She was the captain of the team, was named the most valuable player at the tournament and scored three goals in the tournament final to lead Fraser Valley to a 14-12 win over the Calgary Renegades.
She also earned a silver at the Youth Pan-Am water polo championships in September of 2015.
This year has seen Utas continue her success in the pool, as she was part of Team Canada’s gold medal win at the Junior Pan-Am Water Polo Games in Edmonton in July. The team finished with a perfect record at the tournament, and defeated the United States to win gold.
“This year has been really great for me,” she said. “The Junior Pan-Am’s was an amazing tournament, and it was the first time that the Canadian women had ever won it. To win that on our home soil was amazing. It was definitely my career highlight so far.”
Utas, who plays the two-metre guard position, said her primary role is to prevent goals.
“I’m checking the person that is right in front of the net and it’s a constant battle of trying to block the person from getting the ball into the hole,” she said. “It can be a struggle at times, but I just love the challenge.”
Following the event in New Zealand, Utas will return to her studies at Yale, and also rejoin her club team at Pacific Storm in Vancouver. She said she wants to continue pursuing the sport, and has big hopes.
“I want to get a scholarship to the United States, but also definitely want to get on that road to the Olympics,” she said. “I want to get my education first, but it would be an honour to play for Canada one day.”
Joining Utas on the Canadian U18 team is 2016 W.J. Mouat grad Emily Aikema, who is a member of the Fraser Valley Water Polo Club. The other B.C. representative is Viktoria Orlova, who is a teammate of Utas on Pacific Storm. Canada squares off in the round robin against Hungary, Mexico and Germany.
For more on the team, visit waterpolo.ca.