The New Zealand women’s water polo team’s proven it’s on the path to the Paris 2024 Olympics, recording its best world championships finish in three decades.
The Kiwi side placed 10th at the FINA event in Budapest, Hungary, losing to a fired up Canada 20-11.
The Canadians were dominant from the beginning but the young New Zealand team continued to put up a fight.
“Hats off to Canada, they played their best game against us,” coach Angie Winstanley-Smith said.
“We can only leave from here with good experiences and memories.”
Emmerson Houghton scored an impressive six goals.
“It’s so good to play hard and tough games, and to hear the fans from the stands. Being here in Hungary was the best,” she said.
“We are very tired, but the girls played very well; we kept fighting the whole time.”
It’s New Zealand’s best placing since coming 7th in 1991, marking a rise for the team aiming for a first Olympic berth in two years’ time. However, the end result came with some disappointment after a loss to France in penalty shoot-out that would’ve seen them make the quarter-finals.
“They were so close from the quarter-final round; their defence was good. We haven’t played at this level since 2019. We actually became more and more comfortable,” Winstanley-Smith said.
Ten teams qualify for the Olympics - the New Zealanders making their case by breaking into the top-10 sides in the world.
A rare investment of $100,000 annually from High Performance Sport New Zealand announced late last year has given the sport a boost to make history by qualifying for Paris.
The challenge now for the Kiwi team is to continue the momentum - and the high-level game time - if they’re to nab a spot.
"These girls are awesome and I can't wait to see what they'll do in the future," Winstanley-Smith said.
The FINA World Championships in Budapest over the past week was the first time the women’s team has played since a Test against Australia in December 2019.