They're no strangers to the international stage, but for four UCT water polo players, getting called up to the South African squad for this year's Commonwealth Games is the zenith of their young careers.
Chris Baker, Jonathan Hock, Nicholas Hock (men's) and Tarryn Schooling (women's) will take to the pool for the senior national team at the 20th Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in July and August.
The quartet have been stalwarts of UCT's trophy-laden water polo teams of recent years, and are raring to make a splash at the Games.
The men's first team have won the prestigious USSA Water Polo tournament for four years running, while Ikey players are also regularly selected for national teams.
Baker vividly recalls the pride he felt when that email from SwimSA popped into his inbox.
"We had just finished a Western Province training session on a Friday afternoon and I was one of the last to leave the pool area. I read the email and I kept on reading the team list over and over again. I eventually ended up just staring at my name on the team list.
"I had this overwhelming sense of pride and relief building up inside me. I immediately phoned my parents to share the news." While Baker has represented South Africa as a junior in the FINA World Championships in Greece (2011) and Hungary (2013), he refers to them a curtain-raisers compared to the Commonwealth Games.
Schooling represented South Africa at the World Championships in Barcelona last year, and recalls her first-game jitters against New Zealand.
"It was our first game of the tournament and I don't think I've ever been so nervous in my life. We played a really good game and lost narrowly. I look forward to meeting them again in a big tournament!" she says.
Schooling can't wait to dive into the Commonwealth pools.
"Commonwealth Games promises to be an entirely new experience, as each tournament is different. So while I have represented my country before in an international tournament, I consider this selection a huge achievement; and yes, it is a big tournament to be called up for, and I can't wait to get there," she adds.
As water polo is an amateur sport in South Africa, players routinely foot the bill for tours and training camps, whether local or international.
"This can end up being very expensive, and is the reason that a lot of very good players give up playing competitive water polo," says Baker. "Having said that, the water polo community gets very involved in fundraising for national tours, as is happening for this Commonwealth tour, and companies like Old Mutual Wealth are very generous in their support of the game."
When UCT played Stellenbosch in the final of the USSA tournament in 2012, Baker was not in the greatest form. By his own admission, he'd had an "average tournament" up to then, and was low on confidence.
"During the final, that completely changed! I just couldn't seem to do anything wrong in that match. My defence was impenetrable, and when I shot I couldn't miss: I ended up scoring three goals in our 7-3 victory over Stellenbosch."
He and his team-mates will hope for more of the same in Glasgow.
Story by Yusuf Omar.
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