Great Britain's senior women's water polo team are ready to make history when they kick-start their European Water Polo Championship campaign in the Netherlands on Friday.
When the Group D fixture between Britain and Slovakia gets underway, it will mark the first time in a decade that GB's women have been involved in the major European competition, following an eye-catching qualifying campaign that saw them top their qualification group back in June.
Now they await the challenge of taking on Europe’s best at the home of the world champions - the Netherlands – inside the famous Pieter van den Hoogenband Swimming Stadium.
Great Britain have been drawn in a competitive Group D alongside Bulgaria, Germany and opening opponents Slovakia, as they aim to progress to the latter stages of the Championships.
A squad of 14 players has been undergoing final pre-competition preparations at a training camp in Zeist – a town just outside of Utrecht – ahead of the main event in Eindhoven.
The European Championships take place from 5th-13th January where the GB team will be part of a new-look competition format. This year’s finals have been split into two divisions for the first time where the women’s competition has also been expanded to 16 teams to match the men’s event.
The new format – which has been used in the age group events – means that Great Britain must finish in the top two of their group and then defeat one of the top eight sides from last year’s competition to reach the quarter-finals.
Amongst the side looking to do just that is Katie Brown née Hesketh - who is the only member of the current squad that competed at the European Championships for Great Britain in Budapest 10 years ago.
She is joined by a host of the nation’s top talent that ply their trade both at home and overseas. That includes the likes of Lily Turner, who is coming off a strong season in both the USA and in Greece, as well as goalkeeper Sophie Jackson, who won the top keeper award at the Danube Cup last month where Great Britain went on to win the tournament.
Kathy Rodgers continues to captain the side with Annie Clapperton as vice-captain, while Cheltenham’s Amelie Perkins heads to the tournament as the youngest member of the squad at just 16 years of age.
There is also some history of this competition amongst the coaching staff as assistant coach Peggy Etiebet was also part of the British squad in 2014 as she and team manager Rose Younger continue to support head coach Nick Buller and the squad throughout the event.
Ahead of the action getting underway in the Netherlands, Swim England Water Polo Programme Lead, Craig Figes, said: “I want to wish Nick, Peggy, Rose and the entire squad the best of luck throughout the competition in Eindhoven.
“This is a special team who have performed incredibly well to make it to our first Championships in a decade. I hope they take the time to enjoy the experience and know that whatever happens, they have already made us all proud.
“They’ve got the full support of everyone back home and we can’t wait to watch them represent the nation.”
GB's women follow Friday's match against Slovakia by taking on Bulgaria on Saturday (6th January), before concluding the group stage against the Germans on Sunday (7th January).
Great Britain’s water polo squad for the 2024 European Water Polo Championships in Eindhoven, Netherlands (5th-13th January 2024):
Katie Brown née Hesketh
Lotte Van Vingerden
Nick Buller, head coach
Peggy Etiebet, assistant coach
Rose Younger, team manager