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Outgames 2009: A coach helps spark 'Cinderella story'

Toronto Triggerfish water polo team wins first medal in competition with help from a coach who kept her cool.

By Jim Buzinski
Outsports.com


COPENHAGEN – Five years ago, the Toronto Triggerfish water polo team went winless in tournament play. When they won their first match in 2005, it was a cause for celebration. And Thursday at the Copenhagen Aqua Arena, the team was over the moon.

triggerfish
A member of the bronze-medal Toronto Triggerfish.
Check out our photo gallery from the pool and the track.

By beating the San Francisco Tsunami, 8-7, in overtime, the Triggerfish A team won the bronze medal at the World Outgames, its first medal in any competition. A big reason was their head coach, Christi Bardecki.

In the final period of regulation of Thursday’s game, I sat near the Triggerfish bench, trying to position myself to get some nice pictures of whatever team won the bronze. When Toronto scored a goal to go ahead, 7-6, with under a minute to go, I moved even closer. And when the Tsunami scored a clutch, tying goal with under 20 seconds to go, I figured the Triggerfish might fall apart, as teams often do in that situation.

So it was very impressive to watch Bardecki handle her team as they headed for the overtime session – she was positive, light-hearted and even joking. Had it been my team that just frittered away the lead that late, I would have encouraged mass drowning. But Bardecki stayed calm and was focused on strategy for the overtime, acting like she had forgotten her team was just seconds away from victory.

“It was all inside,” she said of her emotions during that time. A former national Canadian team player who also played for the University of Hawaii, Bardecki has been in tight competitive situations before. Her calmness rubbed off on her team, which regrouped and was able to squeeze out the winning goal against a Tsunami team that fought until the last shot.

christie100Her players spoke in glowing admiration for the attitude she has brought to the team. Steven Bereznai, who plays for the Triggerfish B team, said Bardecki always keeps the team focused on having fun while correcting mistakes in a practical and non-threatening way.

“She is able to explain your mistakes to you so you don’t feel like a jackass,” Bereznai said, “even when you feel like you are a jackass.”

Bardecki called the team’s medal a “Cinderella story” and said she has enjoyed coaching the Triggerfish more than any other in her career, working with many people who had never played competitive team sports before.

Bardecki, who is straight, joined the team after her mom had a great experience playing with the Triggerfish. Working with the team has not only won her respect, it got her a boyfriend, who was a Triggerfish player when she joined and was in the pool Thursday. “All the gay guys put dibs on him,” joked Toronto synchronized swimmer Andrew Delaware, but it was Bardecki who snagged him. Some girls have all the luck.

In the gold medal match, Amsterdam defeated WANQ, 9-6, a team comprised of Americans from West Hollywood, Atlanta, New York and Queer Utah Aquatics.