Great Britain’s senior women’s water polo team finished top of their group at the qualification event for the 2024 European Championships – seeing them compete at the competition for the first time in ten years.
The group came into the competition off the back of an impressive victory in the 2023 Danube Cup the previous week, with them in with a real shout of qualification after beating qualification rivals Germany in the final of that competition.
Nick Buller’s squad made the trip down to Portugal’s Rio Maior with the immediate task of repeating that feat, as the strong German side were also their opponents in the first match of their four-team group, which carried qualification spots for up to the top two teams.
Against the team that finished 10th at last year’s European Championships in Split, the girls put in an outstanding performance across the squad to run out 5-13 winners (1-4, 0-4, 1-3, 3-2), with London Otter’s Lily Turner topping the scoresheet for the British side with an impressive five goal-haul. Her efforts, along with some resolute defending, ensured that the group put themselves in the driving seat for qualification ahead of their next two games.
The second match against hosts Portugal was arguably the pick of the lot from an entertainment perspective, with the British team knowing that a win would seal their place at the European Championships in Israel this coming January.
Despite missing a few early chances as the first half of the game progressed, the players rallied together to close out a game which was end-to-end throughout. Turner continued her fine form with three goals, but it was her teammate Katy Cutler who made the difference across four quarters of exciting action with four goals to her name – guaranteeing them a top two finish ahead of the final game with a 12-14 victory (1-2, 3-3, 5-6, 3-3).
The Sunday morning match against Finland rounded off the competition, with the team putting in a dominant performance to finish with a 100% record. Toula Falvey and Mhairi Nurthen fired in six goals each against the nation, while there were hat-tricks for Niamh Moloney and Brooke Tafazolli as the group-winners closed their account with a 2-27 victory (1-10, 1-6, 0-5, 0-6) against the team who ended up on 0 points.
Germany join Great Britain in qualifying for the major competition, as they finished in second place, with them making up the eight qualifiers who will join up with the seven best finishers from the 2022 European Championships and hosts Israel in the finals.
Speaking on their achievement, head coach Nick Buller was happy with the team’s performance, whilst giving a dignified take on their subsequent preparations for the competition in the meantime.
“I was very pleased with the performance of the squad and the positive culture that is developing within it. I have no doubt that the players will have gained confidence from our two back to back tournament victories in both the Danube Cup (Szentes, Hungary) and the European Qualification tournament. As a group we are determined to build on this momentum as we embrace the exciting challenge of competing in the European Championships in Israel in January 2024.”
Assistant coach Peggy Etiebet offered a more specific outlook on how the team fared – praising the group for their resilience in the important moments.
“I'm delighted with the results both from the senior women's programme's perspective and the inspiring effect it will have for the age group athletes, who will be able to see, for the first time in 10 years, a real elite senior pathway that they can to aspire to join.
“The team really capitalised on the learning and preparation from the pre-qualification tournament in Szentes. GB ladies came out very strong against Germany and dominated from the outset were able to maintain their form in the Portugal match which was a much more challenging match. GB kept fighting and maintained their composure through a nail biting contest which drew the best from both teams.
“There was strong competition for places for the qualifiers and we look forward to working with the squad over the next six months ahead of the Europeans in Israel in January.”
Great Britain’s men were also in qualification action in Istanbul – recording a 28-0 loss to double Olympic champions Serbia in the first game, before 19-2 and 17-7 losses to Turkey and Slovakia respectively brought their campaign to an end – providing valuable experience for a squad that is still building towards regular international competition.