By Tyler Lowey, Times Reporter
When a child is determined to succeed in a sport and has the desire to compete at the highest level possible, there’s no limit to how far they can go.
Having already dominated swimming lessons, Julianna Hill needed a new challenge. That’s where she found the Strathmore Polominos Water Polo Club three years ago. Since then, the sport has consumed her life in a fantastic way and recently led her to the Space City.
Hill was picked up by the Edmonton Thunderbirds, a U16 boys team, for Shark Fest, a tournament held in Houston, Texas Oct. 20-22. She was the only Strathmore product on the squad and one of two females picked up for the trip.
“There wasn’t a gold medal game or anything, it was mostly just exhibition games against American teams,” said Hill. “It was all about being a part of the experience and a chance to get scouted for different teams down the road.”
Before Shark Fest kicked off, the Thunderbirds got their feet wet in an exhibition game against a local high school team. Once the festival started, the Thunderbirds played fairly well, winning a pair of games, losing two and tying one game.
Often when youthful teams travel to play in different countries, there can be a lot of eye opening. This time, the Americans did the majority of the eye opening.
“They were pretty surprised with how rough and physical we play,” said Hill. “Down there, they are used to being open and then when the ball comes to them, then they get covered. But that’s not how we play defence. We cover the other team all the time and try not to let them get any open space so the ball doesn’t even have a chance to reach them.”
Covering the opponent like glue is hard enough on the hardwood or the gridiron, let alone in an Olympic-sized pool.
The ability to sustain such a high compete level is the product of the 15-year-old’s work ethic. For Hill, off days don’t exist.
Three days a week, Hill is training with her private coach in Calgary, to go with her boxing lessons and cross training regimes.
“It’s important to build up the small muscles at this age to help prevent big injuries further down the road,” said her personal trainer Reza Soleimani. “I put her through some long workouts and tough drills, but she never backs down, she always wants to work on new ways to get better at her sport.
“She loves what she’s doing, and when she gets into practice drills or games, she’s a fierce competitor. She likes to get involved in the play, doesn’t shy away from contact and enjoys using her physicality to take over a game.”
Hill also works out with the Calgary Mako Water Polo Club twice a week, and once the weekend rolls around, she hits Highway 2 for Edmonton at least twice a month.
Up in Edmonton, Hill trains with the Thunderbirds and Edmonton Tsunami. She attends a couple of practices each weekend, unless one of her three teams takes off for a tournament; then she’s thrown back into the fiery world of tournament play.
“We picked her up originally for tournaments because we wanted to develop her leadership skills,” said Thunderbirds Head Coach Tim Floyd. “We wanted her to become more of a leader instead of just following other players.”
All that training and water polo action not only take a toll on the body, but also on the books. It’s a lot to handle for anyone, especially for a kid who’s entering her first year at Strathmore High School.
“It gets tough every once in a while missing school,” said Hill. “It can be tough to miss just one day of school, let alone five days for an international tournament. But I just try my best to stay on top of things, work with my teachers and try to get ahead anywhere I can.”
Last weekend was Hill’s first weekend free of water polo in five weeks. Her schedule will ramp up again, as she is booked solid each weekend from now until Dec. 22, when she gets a break for the holidays.
The three-hour commute to Edmonton is perfect for catching up on homework, other than the lack of Wi-Fi, but it is the life she is accustomed to these days and doesn’t see it letting up any time soon.
“I definitely want to try my best to earn a scholarship and play in the NCAA one day, preferably in California because that’s where the best water polo is played,” said Hill. “All these trips I’m going on and work I’m putting in will hopefully pay off and get me noticed.”
Next on Hill’s horizon is a possible water polo trip to New Zealand and a tournament in California in the New Year.