Reuel D’Souza is one of a number of talented young players who represents the present and future of Canadian men’s water polo. The 21-year-old is the youngest of three brothers from Vancouver who played polo; his brother Ethan has worked in the Canadian national team program as a coach, while Shanan, their oldest brother, got involved with the sport as a referee.
The youngest D’Souza has advanced furthest in his national team dreams, representing Canada at the junior and national team level as he and his young teammates—including Jeremie Cote, Bogdan Djerkovic and Mark Spooner—look to get their country back to the Olympics for the first time since 2008.[Long-Time Dreams Collide At 2019 Pan American Men’s Water Polo Final]
It won’t be easy, especially factoring in an Olympic qualification process that has been upended by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic that has now killed one million people globally while infecting millions. The Olympic Qualification Tournament—originally set for Rotterdam in February 2020—has been rescheduled for a year later. This is a potential boon for Canadian Head Coach Giuseppe Porzio’s young squad, who must beat out either Croatia, Montenegro or Greece next February to make the cut for Tokyo.
D’Souza spoke recently with TotalWaterPolo about the pandemic’s impact on him and his teammates, getting back to training after a months-long layoff, and his decision to return to Europe and play for Pays D’aix Natation in Pax en Provence, France—with the goal of making the Games in 2021.
– How have you dealt with Covid-19 from a personal and athletic perspective?
When the Olympic qualification was cancelled in March, I went back home to Vancouver, where there were not many cases—and it was lower compared to other parts of the world.
I was at home quite often, being diligent [about] taking care of myself and my family. It gave me a lot of time to spend with people I love—and who I didn’t spend much time with when I was abroad.
How it affected me as an athlete—it took structure and day-to-day scheduling. [My life] was not organized in comparison to what it was before. I was on a strict regimen training two times a day, I was in Greece [playing with AO Paleo Faliro], then I had to come back home.
The first few weeks was a change—I would wake up thinking I have to get to a pool, a practice or a gym. There was nothing to get to.
Those first couple of weeks were different—there was a lot more time to read, play some Playstation with my friends, play cards with my parents, walk my dog. It was nice, at first. [But] I missed water polo.
After a few weeks in quarantine the cases were still quite low. I was able to go for runs, and I swam out of a lake in British Columbia with Monika Eggens and Hayley McKelvey from the women’s national team and Mark Spooner, a teammate of mine.
Because it was April it was just us at the lake; it was pretty cold so we put on some wetsuits. That was a nice change—to get back in the water and feel like I was back in my element again.
– How has Coach Porzio kept in touch with you and your teammates? Is there a regular schedule of meetings online?
We were having weekly meetings with the whole team and staff. Typically, we would talk about how our week went, what we were doing at home. We also had some online home [high intensity training] workouts three times a week. We would meet at other times to discuss general water polo stuff and check in on how people were feeling–just to keep in touch and see if anyone needed anything during a troubling time.
– The contrast must have been jarring; you went from focusing on qualifying for the Olympics in 2020 to being sidelined indefinitely. That and some of your older teammates must have had questions about what their future in water polo would be.
Disappointing may not be the right word but it wasn’t easy on anyone—I don’t think it would be easy for any athlete to have your competition thrown away right before your eyes.
Right away as a team we looked at it from a positive aspect and saw that we’re young and this was just another year for us to put under our belt for a chance to try and qualify.
– That could be the silver lining approach; some of the teams you’ll need to beat out for an Olympic berth will be that much older—and perhaps more vulnerable.
I hope so. Everyone on the team is approaching this with a great mentality. We’ve all seen it for what it is—more time to prepare.
We’re hoping for this group to go to the Olympics. We hope it will be sooner rather than later; we will give it our best effort no matter what.
The end goal is just to get there. We haven’t been there since 2008, so we’re all looking forward to a chance to compete and get there again.
– How has the interruption with the virus affected your goal of pursing a college degree?
As of right now I’m attending the University of Pacific—because we can’t get on the campus at the moment this semester is being conducted online. I’m planning on pursuing my education simultaneously [with water polo training].
– When you go back into water polo training, will that be your primary focus?
On Saturday, I’m departing for France, where I’ll play abroad. I’ve made sure that my lectures will line-up outside of the practice times. It might be a sacrifice from a sleep standpoint—and I’ll have to make that up—but it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make to reach both of my aspirations. I want to get the best out of myself athletically and academically.
– I assume you’re not only following some of your teammates to Europe, you’ll be on the continent with the majority of the American men. Ten players from Team USA have found spots on European pro clubs.
I won’t be playing professionally but I will be going to France. I won’t be receiving a salary to maintain amateurism. I will play with Aix-en-Provence.
– How did this come about?
After I decided to attend UOP and realized that I won’t be able to go on campus, the staff and I decided to file a waiver to see if it would be okay to go abroad as long as I kept the amateur status.
I went through the proper procedure, I signed a waiver and filled out the forms needed. I made sure to follow the necessary guidelines.
– You’ve played in Europe before; what might be different about this trip to the Continent?
It’s the same game as usual. I’ve done it a few years abroad now, and I’m really looking forward to a new style of play—seeing how water polo’s viewed in a different country. Like I said, it’s nothing new; the game stays the same no matter where you go. I’ll work hard and ultimately hope to get better and improve every day.
– How many of your teammates either are already in Europe or are planning to go?
As of right now we have a few guys going [including] some who are already there. As of now, we have five guys in Europe, Bogdan Djerkovic and I will be going to Provence with another player, Brody McKnight, a young goalkeeper.
– How will you maintain your connection with Coach Porzio to maintain the best training regimen for the national team?
There’s a lot of uncertainty in this time. To address the first part, I believe we’ll be doing a lot of weekly meetings. Right now, we’re in the planning stages so we can meet up all together once a week.
The second thing is, there’s a lot of moving pieces. You play it for ear on that basis—you get out there and see what the training environment and competition is like. Then, play it by ear, almost. I know for sure that Pino will be in contact with players in Europe, like he usually is, and the players in Canada.
– Do you think you would be pursuing a degree and playing for a professional club in Europe if there wasn’t the disruption due to the coronavirus?
To be honest, not much has changed for me. It was a few weeks at home for me to put things back into perspective. You’re disappointed when things are postponed or cancelled, but then you get those two weeks of silence when you’re quarantined and you’re thinking about everything.
For me, I’ve always known what are my aspirations for the sport, and there’s no second guessing that. And, I knew that I was going to have to venture somewhere [besides Canada] health pandemic or not. It was just a matter of how the situation with the coronavirus would evolve [and] what that would mean for travel.
I know I would be attending school, even before the emergence of the pandemic, but the question of whether I would be playing in Europe definitely came out of the situation with the coronavirus.
– Talk about your brothers; all three of you ended up playing water polo. How important was their trailblazing for your as a player?
I have two older brothers. [Shanan] is a referee, but he’s stepped back from that capacity and is pursuing other things in life. He still loves water polo and is still around when he can be.
I have a great relationship with both my brothers. I guess it’s true that things can be up and down with siblings but for the most part we’re all on the same page. Ethan in particular we have a bond… there’s not many words that can describe it. He’s always been there for me no matter what I needed. Having him around in water polo—he shares the same passion for water polo that I do.
He’s coaching in a full-time capacity in Saskatchewan, and doing some administrative work as well. He’s the head coach of the men’s program. He cares so much—the way that I do—it’s always nice to pick up the phone and talk shop.
That’s always how it’s been with the two of us. It’s great. I love both of my brothers and I know the feeling’s mutual and we can really talk about anything.
– In a pandemic, regional connections are key. Given that both the U.S. and Canada are heavily invested in developing their respective water polo programs, does it make sense that there should be more cooperation between the two countries, especially at this time?
Personally, I haven’t thought about it from that point of view. I know the importance of quality games, and I’ve made it a priority for me to get those games—so I’ve played in Europe for a few years.
From a team standpoint it’s important, and we have some training camps planned for the year. It’s uncertain if it’s on this side of the globe or another.
I’m willing to go wherever the coaching staff sees the best solution.
– There’s the National League, which is not necessarily the same level of competition as in Europe, but it aspires to be a competitive league—and having Canada in the mix might help towards that goal.
The majority [of the team] is pretty well-informed about events going on globally—and I’m very interested in competition abroad. I do keep up to date with the national league and other competitions.
The National League seems to get better every year, and I think USA Water Polo is doing a great job with [it].
It’s super close locally and seems like a viable option. I’m not sure of the things that would work behind the scenes—my responsibility is to get in the pool and play. As a team, we would stand to benefit—because any quality competition benefits both parties.
It’s a great option; I haven’t thought too much about it. If both sides think it would be feasible, I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team [to say] we’d be interested in games like that.
– As your looking to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, who will you have to leapfrog to capture an Olympic berth for the first time in 13 years?
With limited spots, you approach [the tournament] with one mentality—you play every game like it’s your last. Every game matters—any point that you can take from anybody goes a long way.
The team will approach every game like it’s our last. Will play everyone like it will qualify us for the Olympics.
I’m super proud of Canada [because] I’ve always felt there’s this grit on the team that everybody’s there for the right reason and will fight to win the game.
Sometimes, scores don’t reflect the mindset of a team, so I hope that come qualification we can show what we’re made of—and show people the mindset we bring to the game.