The Aussie Stingers are currently preparing for the FINA Women’s Water Polo World Cup, which will be held in Russia in September.

Leading up to the World Cup, TWG are getting to know some of the Aussie Stingers. 

Fast Facts

Full Name: Keesja Kaia Gofers
Nickname: Keesj (pronounced Kaysh)
Age: 28
Started Playing: 1998
Position: Right Hand Driver (RHD)
Preferred Cap No: #2 (Aussie Stingers) & #7 (Sydney University Lions)
First Club: Sydney Uni was my first and will always be my club, however I will be playing with Olympiacos in Greece this upcoming season.
Fun fact: When I'm not in the pool or at the gym, I'm busy arranging flowers! Not sure how many Water Polo athletes are florists by day, but that's me and I absolutely love it!

Image courtesy WPA

An early starter, Keesja Gofers started playing water polo at the age of eight with the Sydney University Lions. She went on to co-captain the Lions to their 2016 National Water Polo League (now Australian Water Polo League, AWL) win with fellow Aussie Stinger teammate, Lea Yanitsas.

Growing up with three sisters who all excelled in their chosen sports and fields set the bar for Gofers to push herself, which saw her make her Olympic debut at Rio 2016; and keep her on track, aiming to make the team again for Tokyo 2020.

TWG: Your sisters are also Australia representatives. Taniele competed in Beijing as part of the Stingers who won Bronze; both Taniele and Allira play European Handball for Australia with Allira also playing Beach Handball. Was it a competitive household growing up?

KG: Growing up five years younger than my next oldest sibling, I had no idea they were all exemplary in their chosen fields. Allira is super intelligent and as you mentioned played European and Beach Handball for Australia. Taniele was part of the 2008 Beijing bronze medal winning team as well as the family humanitarian (now working for the UN in Myanmar) and Chivonne excelled at music as an incredible opera singer.

Being exceptional seemed "normal" and being the typical younger sister I wanted to be just like my sisters. I tried my hand at basically everything and it was water polo that stuck. With the age gap, I was never really directly competing with my sisters, although I was always pushing myself to keep up with them, so I have them to thank for much of my accomplishments. All three set the bar incredibly high!

TWG: You’re aiming for your 2nd Olympics (Tokyo2020). How was your Rio experience? What did you take away from that experience that you will be able to put into your 2020 campaign?

KG: To be a part of the Australian Olympic Team in Rio 2016 was incredible. The atmosphere, the crowd, the athletes, the highs and lows were like nothing I had experienced before or since. It is the intensity of the Olympic situation that makes you strive to be a part of it all over again.

I learnt a lot from that Olympic campaign and the main thing I took away is pushing the fear of losing a game out of my mind and replacing that with the desire to win. It’s really a small mental shift in how you approach pressure situations, but I think personally it is something that can definitely help achieve our goals for Tokyo.

A one Club player, Keejsa has been a Lion from the beginning, which has seen her take part in four consecutive Finals of the AWL. Along with Hannah Buckling, Gofers has been fortunate to be coached some amazing women including Sydney 2000 gold medallist Deb Watson and dual Olympic bronze medallist (Beijing 2008 & London 2012) Alicia Smith (née McCormack)

TWG: You play for the Sydney University Lions in the AWL who have been in four consecutive Finals, walking away with 2x Gold & 2x Silver. What do you credit to the team being so successful?

KG: In the past four years, the Women's Sydney Uni Lions have been lucky enough to have Alicia Smith and Deb Watson (two superstars of Australian Women's Water Polo) leading us as coaches. They focused on athlete and team wellbeing as well as insightful tactics.

In turn, the players at Sydney Uni fostered a positive space in and out of the pool. It the combination of both these attributes that I credit to the success at Sydney Uni. It put a lot of enjoyment into playing water polo, which when you are travelling a lot and pushing yourself so hard can make a world of difference.

Keesja is currently in Canberra with the Stingers, alongside the Chinese national team ahead of the Test Match series to be held in Sydney this weekend. The test series will provide both teams a chance for warm up matches before the World Cup kicks off in just under a month.

TWG: How have your preparations for the World Cup in Russia been? Are you excited / nervous / ready / all of the above?

KG: I am very excited for the World Cup in Russia. The team has come back from a very positive European tour and are looking to pick up from where we left off.

There will be a few unpredictables at this tournament with new rules that are going to be tested. We haven't seen how they will affect the game yet, so it will be interesting to see which teams adapt the quickest. Learning new rules can be tricky on the fly, but I’m also excited to see how we can use the changes to our advantage.

TWG: One last question...What advice would you give to aspiring female athletes?

KG: Be brave, whatever that means to you.
If it means asking your coach what you need to improve on to make the team, do it.
If it means not being able to go out because you've got training the next morning, make the sacrifice.
If it means seeking help from a psychologist, book it in.
If it means embracing your strong athletic body when social media is showing something else, be brave and own it.

You can catch Keesja in action along with her fellow Aussie Stingers at Sydney Olympic Park this weekend when they take on China. Follow Water Polo Australia on Facebook and to be kept up to date on times and ticketing information.