It’s not often a 14-year-old athlete gets tabbed as a future can’t-miss candidate for an Olympic competition.
According to his coach, Matteo Flores falls into that category, and then some, when it comes to water polo.
“This young man carries a giant within,” said Ferenc Vindisch, who’s served as head coach and technical director with the Saanich Water Polo Club for the past 27 years. “As a professional coach, it’s easy to visualize him reaching the top Olympic level.”
Flores, a Grade 8 student at Journey Middle School, has been working with Vindisch as a Saanich Water Polo Club member for about five years.
“I really enjoyed swimming when I was younger,” Flores said when asked what sparked his interest in water polo. “My dad saw a coach promoting water polo (during a swim) at Crystal Pool when we lived in Victoria, so he signed me up to try it, and I really enjoyed it.
Vindisch was immediately impressed with Matteo’s swimming skills and hand-eye coordination and invited him to train at Commonwealth Pool, said his mother, Angie Flores.
Flores trains up to four or five times a week and began competing in tournaments within a year of taking up the sport. His free time is spent playing guitar, hiking, and hanging out with his friends. Although it’s a long way off, he’s set his sights for the time being on becoming a commercial pilot when he finishes school.
In addition to the usual two tournaments a year at Commonwealth Pool, Flores has also competed as a member of the Puget Sound Pirates in a couple of tournaments in Portland, Ore.
He was a little surprised by the skill level during the most recent one at the beginning of June.
“It wasn’t as challenging or competitive as the tournaments here in Saanich,” he noted. “We won every game, and the scores were pretty lopsided. I earned an opportunity to compete on the U.S. Junior Olympic team, and I’m looking forward to that. It’s a great chance to measure myself against a higher level of competition.”
Matteo earned the nod for the tryout July 15 to 18 in Orange County, Calif., because of a lack of U.S. players in his age bracket, his mother said.
The family is holding a bottle drive on Saturday, June 24, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. under the sign for SEAPARC Leisure Complex at the corner of Sooke and Phillips roads to help with the trip’s costs.
“The tournament fees and travel expenses are very costly, so we figured a bottle drive would be a good way to help,” Angie said.
Matteo quickly credits Vindisch and his coaching style for helping get him every step of the way.
“To say Matteo’s coachable is an understatement,” Vindisch said. “He’s a pleasure to work with and diligently approaches the sport and his teammates. I could go on and on about this very unique young man.”