RIO BOUND: Olympic Games debutant and Stingers keeper Kelsey Wakefield is part of the Australian women’s water polo team chasing gold in Rio.
RIO BOUND: Olympic Games debutant and Stingers keeper Kelsey Wakefield is part of the Australian women’s water polo team chasing gold in Rio. Chris Hyde

Olympic Games rookie plays for keeps

WATER POLO: Kelsey Wakefield had a tough initiation to the sport of water polo.

"My older sister played, and we would muck around in the backyard pool and she would want to throw balls at me," the 25-year-old recalled of growing up in Brisbane.

Wakefield (pictured) gladly puts her body on the line these days as the goalkeeper for the Australian women's team, the Stingers.

She will be crucial to the side's chances of becoming Olympic champions in Rio next month when she makes her Games debut.

Wakefield watched on as the Aussie girls returned from Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 with bronze medals.

She says she and her teammates are now aiming to emulate the achievement of the 2000 team which won gold in Sydney when women's water polo made its first appearance at the Olympics.

Reigning champion the United States will be the tournament favourite, but is beatable.

"We're definitely going for the gold medal," said Wakefield, who is among six debutants in the Stingers squad, which will be led by captain and fellow Queenslander Bronwen Knox, lining up for her third Olympics, and coach Greg McFadden.

"We've been having some really good competition lately, and have beaten the US a couple of times, so we've got some confidence going in.

"But then, at the same time we know we are going to have to work really hard to achieve that ultimate goal."

The US was crowned World League Champions for the third straight year last month with a win over Spain in the final, while the Aussies beat China in the play-off for the bronze.

"They (the US) play really heavy," Wakefield said. "It's hard for us to get free so we've just got to work on that and try and be more technical, try to figure out strategies to break their tactics."

Wakefield, who has been a part of five national water polo titles with the Brisbane Barracudas, helped Australia win bronze at the 2011 world junior championships in Italy before becoming a part of the senior team to claim silver at the 2013 world championships in Spain.

Now in Hungary for a pre-Games camp and competition with the squad, she is now relishing the chance to finally compete at the Olympics

"In 2012 I was the reserve, so I was with the team right up until they went to London," she recalled.

"I don't really get nervous, it's more just excitement.

"The Olympics is still like a hole other level, so I'm looking forward to experiencing that for the first time."

As well as her uncanny ability to stop shots on goal, Wakefield is also renowned for baking birthday cakes for teammates.

"There's a couple of birthdays (while) overseas, but it might be a bit hard to bake a cake over there," she said.

The players will instead settle for a gold medal each.


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