North Delta’s Hayley McKelvey was a long way from home.
McKelvey had spent the last several days in Kunshan, China, a city halfway between Beijing and Hong Kong on the eastern edge of the country, competing in the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final.
The tournament, held in China each year, brings together eight international teams to kick off the start of the water polo season, and on June 2, McKelvey and the rest of the Canadian national team were facing off against Russia for the bronze medal.
The Canadians opened the tournament against Russia, beating them 11-9. After a 12-5 loss to the Americans, and a 13-4 win against the Japanese, they returned to face the Russians again in the bronze medal match.
It was an even game, McKelvey said, with both teams tracking each other goal for goal. It was tied until the last six seconds, when Russia came back and scored the final goal.
“It was a tough loss,” McKelvey, 22, said, “but then again, it just gets us ready and fuels our fire to start training for the World Cup later … in the beginning of September.”
So far, McKelvey has had a busy season. She got two days off after her university season ended in mid-May, then it was off to Montreal for a week, followed by almost two weeks in China to compete in the World League Super Final.
After the tournament, McKelvey and her team flew to Morioka, Japan for more training. She’ll be there for a few days before heading back to Montreal.
“Then I’ll get three weeks at home, three weeks and a bit finally, which will be [my] first time home for a long time,” McKelvey said.
The Women’s Water Polo World Cup will have McKelvey back on a plane in late August to compete in Russia, but that isn’t the end of her ambitions. As part of the Canadian national water polo team, she’s working towards a dream she’s cultivated since she was nine.
It started in Grade 5, when her friends signed up to play water polo at Sungod Recreation Centre. McKelvey signed up later that fall.
“I really enjoyed being in the water since I was really young,” she said. “When I found out about water polo, it was more the fast pace of the game, the little bit of physicality in there, the getting to throw a ball around, not only being in the pool and swimming around,” that was so enticing.
“A lot of people compare it to chess where you have to be thinking three steps ahead, thinking about what your opponent is going to do, what your teammate’s going to do and know how to react to both,” she continued. “That to me is so interesting and keeps the game fun for me.”
At the time, her coach made the team think about what they wanted to get out of water polo, and where they wanted to take the sport.
“He said, ‘You can go play in the United States and go play for a [National Collegiate Athletic Association] Div 1 school, or you can go play at the Olympics. Where do you want to go?’,” she remembered. “I said, ‘I want to do it all.’”
And so she has.
She got her degree from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and played water polo on their women’s team. She won the national championship as a sophomore and again in 2017, during her final year of school.
Last year McKelvey also played with the Canadian national team, continuing her path towards the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s been an honour and such a great experience,” she said. “Now, I’m on the next step to my goal that I made when I was nine.”