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2023’s Local sporting achievements (3): Waterpolo national teams shine, artistic swimmers show promise

San Ġiljan completed a clean sweep of honours this summer. Photo: Domenic Borg

Aquatic sport has provided a lot of satisfaction for Maltese sport in the past 12 months. The waterpolo national teams brought a lot of excellent results on the international scene while San Ġiljan maintained their stranglehold on domestic competitions. Artistic swimmers reached new heights as the sport continues to grow. Valhmor Camilleri looks back at a productive year at the pool during 2023…

The past 12 months have been a very busy time for aquatic sport in Malta with the waterpolo national team selections taking centre stage with their various participations in European Championship qualifiers as well as continental finals.

Milan Cirovic’s senior national team started the year in some style when they advanced to the semi-final stage of the World Cup Division Two.

The Maltese placed third in the qualifying group held in Otopeni to advance to the semi-final stage that was held in Berlin.

Here, the national team lost to Germany and China but then had the better of South Africa to set up a play-off for fifth place against Iran. The Iranians proved too strong to leave Cirovic’s boys returning home in sixth place.

In June, Malta maintained their recent tradition of reaching the European Championship finals after placing second in the qualifying tournament played at Tal-Qroqq.

Only Germany managed to finish ahead of the Maltese at the National Pool as the latter wrapped up qualification with a dominant 22-4 win over Bulgaria.

For Malta, this was their fifth successive qualification to the continental finals and more remarkable is the fact that the feat was attained with a rejuvenated squad full of young promising players.

Cirovic’s youngsters continued to create history in October when, playing under the name of Valletta, they took part in the LEN Challenger Cup qualifying tournament that was hosted in Malta.

Here, the Maltese selection achieved the unthinkable when they reached the quarter-finals of the competition in the most dramatic fashions after edging out Turkish side ENKA 14-10 to secure second spot in the group on goal difference.

Their run in the competition came to an end in the quarter-finals when they were beaten by another Turkish side, Galatasaray.

The Malta U-15 national team, under the charge of Jonathan Valletta and Ryan Coleiro, also rewrote the history books when they led the team to an impressive tenth-place finish at the European Championship finals in Montenegro.

Their reward is a spot in the U-16 World Championships that will be hosted in Malta.

Malta held its own in other junior Euro finals. The Malta U-19 side, spearheaded by Cirovic and Anthony Farrugia, placed 11th overall.

On the other hand, the women’s U-17 selection, led by Anna Goncharenko and Francesca Paolella, reached their goal of placing 12th overall in the Euro finals.

In the domestic scene, San Ġiljan ASC maintained their stranglehold on local waterpolo when they completed a clean sweep of honours. In fact, after landing the Enemed Cup and the Winter League, they went on to lift the Premier Division title after defeating Neptunes in the final series before they saw off Sliema ASC in the KO Final.

In the women’s competitions, Sirens retained their status as Malta champions while Sliema lifted the KO after defeating Sirens in the final.

From left: ASA president Karl Izzo, artistic swimmers Zea Montfort, Ana Culic and Anna Ruggier
and coaches Michelle Hubner and Hannah Preca Trapani. Photo: ASA

The year 2023 also reconfirmed the great strides achieved by Maltese artistic swimmers, under coach Michelle Hubner and her assistant Hannah Preca Trapani.

Anna Culic secured some impressive results in major international competitions. In fact, she secured 14th place at the World Series held in France and then last July managed to place 20th at the World Championship.

In the European Junior Championship, held in Madeira, Portugal, Zea Montfort and Emily Ruggier placed eighth at the end of the preliminary round before finishing 11th in the final.

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