They were named to the 2019 Olympic Development Program's Southeast Zone team
When Nina and Jamie McHardy moved to Lakewood Ranch nine months ago from Pretoria, South Africa, they knew one of their favorite activities was in peril.
The McHardys, twin sophomores who attend Lakewood Ranch High, have played water polo for three years. Their careers began at Pretoria Girls School, after watching their brother, Jordan McHardy, play at Pretoria Boys School. Jordan is two years older than his sisters.
Jamie and Nina admired the sport and the endurance it took, so they took it up themselves once eligible in 2016.
They both played the wing, and Nina, the older twin by one minute, also spent time at center defender. They were good, and they loved it.
Debbie McHardy, the twins’ mother, called Nina the more serious of the two, and Jamie the more relaxed. Jamie said Nina can be “bossy, but in a good way,” and she gets her teammates fired up and in position.
Nina said Jamie is great at giving teammates compliments and keeping their spirits high.
Their ability to be great teammates now will get the supreme test. The McHardys were named to the 2019 USA Water Polo Southeast Zone Olympic Development Team on Dec. 29.
Unfortunately, they have few other opportunities to play locally.
Before the McHardy family came to Lakewood Ranch, Jamie and Nina did research on the area to see what it would be like. They knew it was beautiful and close to some of the nation's best beaches, and they anticipated the location would translate to better water polo opportunities.
Through their research, though, they found out they were mistaken.
There is only one water polo club in either Manatee or Sarasota county, and that is Sun Coast Water Polo in Venice. Only one high school in either county — Venice High — offers water polo as a school sport, and Venice’s 2019 season, which begins in February, will be its first. The McHardys trained with Sun Coast Water Polo when they first arrived in the US, they said, but never played a game for the club.
“Training is a problem,” Jamie McHardy said. “We would have to drive down to Venice every day for practice. Maybe if there were high school teams (closer) it would be easier.”
Beth Bailey, the Venice water polo coach and a Southwest Florida Water Polo Foundation board member, said she has had discussions with the School District of Manatee County about adding water polo in its schools, but the idea needs support from individual schools to become a realistic option. So far, that support, outside of a handful of players like the McHardys, is not there.
The McHardys now play for the Miami Riptides club team, but only in major tournaments worth the time and effort to attend, like the 2018 USA Water Polo National Junior Olympics, held in July in Orange County, Calif. They also trained with Bailey’s Gulf Girls Water Polo team, an offshoot of Sun Coast Water Polo which has a goal of preparing players for the high school season. Unfortunately, the McHardys have no high school team to join.
Despite their few opportunities to show their ability, they were selected to the Olympic Development Program (ODP).
The McHardys have mainly been training by themselves at the Lakewood Ranch YMCA. That's just two girls practicing a game meant for seven-player teams.
The McHardys have stayed busy by joining Manatee County Youth Rowing, a sport with which they had no experience in South Africa.
“It is hard, but I love it,” Nina McHardy said. “It is a nice sport and the competition in the area is good.”
The twins had an opportunity to play in the Olympic Development Program Regional Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., on Jan. 11-13 but they declined their invite because it conflicted with preparation for their Spring Sprints rowing tournament in Tampa the following week, which they already committed to attending.
Though the McHardys likely will have other water polo opportunities through the developmental team, turning down the regional tournament shows how the twins have de-prioritized the sport, even though they love it. Jamie said if she was forced to pick one sport to pursue, she would pick rowing, simply because it is easier to access.
For now, the McHardys will continue to balance both, however they can. Because as much as they are attracted to rowing, it is water polo they consider the best sport. If there is ever a chance to help spread the game into Lakewood Ranch, the twins would take their best shot.
And like in the game itself, they probably would not miss.