For the first time, a Canadian women's canoe polo team will be travelling to the World Games, and the team features a roster made up exclusively of Albertans.
Later this month the Canadians will join teams from New Zealand, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and hosts Poland in the city of Wroclaw.
The World Games, held every four years, feature 30 sports — many of which, including canoe polo, aren't in the Olympics.
"I think it's a good honour," said Mary Lukasik, a Canadian player from St. Albert. "We've trained so hard for so many years and now we finally get to go to the top level of competition. I think for a lot of the girls on the team, this will be their retirement."
The senior women's team qualified for the World Games in September when it finished eighth in Syracuse, Italy at the Canoe Polo World Championships. The senior men's team didn't qualify after finishing 17th.
Canoe polo is similar to water polo. Instead of swimming through the water, players sit in kayaks and are allowed to use their paddles to retrieve or block the ball.
Teams score points by throwing the ball with their hands into a net above the goaltender, who is also in a kayak. Games get physical and at times chaotic as kayaks collide.
I thought it would be a long shot, but then crazy things happened and I made it.- Kassandra Reaume
For the World Games in Wroclaw, Canoe Kayak Canada won't just be sending members of the senior women's team.
"At the World Games there's only one division," said Brad Cameron, coach of the Canadian national women's team.
"In Canada we've taken our best players from under-21 and our best players from our senior women's team and combined them to give us our best chance possible."
Teen prospect playing with senior women
Of the eight female players selected to represent Canada, the youngest is 17-year-old Kassandra Reaume of Morinville.
Reaume plays for the Canadian under-21 team, and this will be her first time playing with the senior women. The young prospect graduated from high school last month.
"I definitely first tried out with the senior women's team just to get the training because I thought it would be a long shot, but then crazy things happened and I made it," Reaume said.
Not only will she be playing with athletes who inspire her to continue her own development, she'll also be playing alongside her coach from the under-21 team.
"Just to be a part of the team and to be their teammate, to be their equal — that's got me the most excited because I do look up to a lot of them."
Cameron said Reaume's inclusion on the team speaks well of the Canadian program.
"It just goes to show that some of our development programs are coming to fruition and Kassandra is a perfect example of that, being the youngest player on the women's team going forward," he said.
A roster full of Albertans
While it's a Canadian team, all eight of the players who will be going to Poland are from Alberta. One of Canada's two main training centres is in Edmonton.
I think that some of the best players are here, absolutely.- Brad Cameron
"Alberta's got the biggest clubs in Canada," said Lukasik. "The fact that we get to play against each other more often is what makes us the strongest players."
One of the first canoe polo clubs in Canada, Edmonton Canoe Paddlers, was formed in 1973. Cameron, who is from Grande Prairie, credits that club's efforts and equipment for getting people interested, and encouraging them to compete at a high level.
"I think that some of the best players are here, absolutely," he said.
"I think some of the semi-retired players like myself like to spend the time with the newer athletes that are coming up, so we have more people around to support the sport both from a training perspective and a competition perspective."
The World Games will be held in Wroclaw, Poland July 20-30. The Canadian canoe polo team will play its first game on July 28.