MIKHAIL NAKORYAKOV – Russian National Team Has Very Good Chances to Become Europe’s Junior Champions
Russian Junior National water polo team has started training for the U19 European Championships. The event, as known, will take place in Chelyabinsk this September. It is going to be a very special competition for Uralochka water polo players most of whom will also uphold the country’s honour as a part of the National team. It is going to be girls’ first prestigious competition which will be held almost in their home town. We asked Mikhail Nakoryakov, senior coach of the Russian Junior National team and Uralochka team, to tell us about the prospects and the time our girls will spend before the competition.
Q: Mikhail Nikolayevich, you might say the first stage of preparation to the European Championships is complete. Where the first training session was held and what was its aim?
A: The first training session was held in Tuapse. Almost all National Team candidates gathered there. This session was organized for the teams born in 1993 and 1994. We tried out every actual candidate who will participate in the European Championships in Chelyabinsk this autumn and in the World Youth Championships in Australia in December. We did not only get acquainted with the athletes and determined their abilities, but also held a little tournament. We divided the two age groups into four teams (first string and second string). Girls were not just playing water polo, but basketball and volleyball too. They ran a timed cross country race, set up new records. I was pleased that, in general, best results were shown by Zlatoust athletes. Kuzina has also given some good performance. She is a member of Uralochka team who now represents Volgograd’s Spartak; she is a daughter of a former Uralochka water polo player Valentina Veryovkina. All in all, she’s given a good run for the other girls and even won a crawl style race. I could say we have picked the first team line-up based on this training session. The next session held in Tuapse and Zlatoust will help find the girls for the second line-up. Moreover, we have an international tournament in France ahead. We need to get ready thoroughly, because today we are looking at the European Junior Championships. We have a very-well prepared group; our main opponents are Italy, Greece and Ukraine. That is why we need to be in the best shape for the competition.
Q: Which teams were you trying out?
A: We tried out the player from Kinef team (Kirishi), SKIF and MSU (Moscow), Nizhny Novgorod and Volgograd. So, we tested the representatives from the strongest sports clubs of this age group, however, the majority were from Uralsky okrug.
Q: Is a considerable majority of Uralochka players an objective reality?
A: That is exactly the situation. To date Zlatoust team is Russian U19 Champion and is, by far, the best in the country. What is more, Uralochka players of this age group have already participated as a part of a main line-up in the Russian Championships among youth teams. They now have more experience and skill. For example, we played different line-ups and the scores were just devastating – 27:4 and 21:1. The first line-up consisting of six of our girls was way ahead of the others. More important we plan to include the girls who will come back from the Olympic Games: Olga Belova (Uralochka), Diana Antonova (SKIF, Moscow) and Anna Karnaukh (Kinef, Kirishi). Together with these girls we have 10 players and three other candidate we will choose over the summer. All together there are 40 contenders for the National team.
Q: Is there a shortage of athletes in this age group?
A: There is no shortage, as such. There is another difficulty. There are three or four players who are much stronger than the rest and it is hard to find good partners for them. For instance, Elvira Karimova’s skill cannot be compared to anybody else’s. I can say the same about Diana Antonova and Olga Belova who are already qualified for the Olympics. These girls are way ahead of the rest and far more experienced.
Q: How will the team line-up differ comparing to last year?
A: Unfortunately, already now I can state that not all experienced players will be given a slot in the team. The goalkeepers’ positions are weak. The players who have take part in the training session are not strong enough for the National team. At the moment, Ksenia Khromova is the best. However, in her turn, she is inferior to Anna Karnaukh who will be the first number in the team. We are trying Anna Gafarova soon, another goalkeeper from Nizhny Novgorod. We need to pick one goalkeeper from four or five girls who will become Karnaukh’s partner. On the other hand, Anna Karnaukh will not be training with the others as she will take part in the Olympics. In this way Team Greece has an advantage since they are not going to the Games in London. Their team was already complete on the World League finals and they will have the same members to perform in Chelyabinsk. The same situation is with Team Italy who has had the same team line-up on the World League finals as the one that will play at the European Junior Championships. We did not have a chance like this. We will start anew. The only training session in France will not really change anything for us. We will stew in our own juice and choose the candidates.
Q: All girls are young. Do you have any problems with the discipline? Or there is no way for any violations on this level?
A: The girls who have the most experience of participating in this type of event play a huge role. Here I give credit for old team members like Maria Savchuk who already has a title of World Champion, Aygul Nukhova who is playing for the adult team now, but joined us at the training session. These girls really rallied the team. There were no discipline violations. It is a different level: it is Russian National team. It is very prestigious to get a slot in it. Girls perfectly realize we will choose only the best, so, they try not to make any mistakes.
Q: Many of the girls took part in the last year’s World Youth Championships when Team Russia became fourth. Do you think this circumstance will be an extra psychological barrier for the players?
A: We should keep in mind that we did not actually lose to many teams at that Championship. А slighting result, and this reproach is not addressed to the athletes, but to the federation, that failed to ensure the necessary training and the presence of some athletes. We had a very intense discussion afterwards, which is why I believe this type of a situation will never happen. So, if we have the best players our team will have every chance to win gold medals at the European Championships in Chelyabinsk.