From Glen Eden to South Sioux City Nebraska, two sisters take their pool talents to the world stage
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From Glen Eden to South Sioux City Nebraska, two sisters have taken their pool talents to the world stage, claiming the top spots at this year’s junior championship.
A journey that started five years ago has now led Laquiesha, 15, and Aaliyah, 14, Clifford (Ngāpuhi) to victory at the 33rd Annual VNEA World Junior Pool Championships in July.
Laquiesha is now a world champion and younger sister Aaliyah is a runner-up.
“It was our first time going [to world championships] and I didn’t expect us to place high up,” Aaliyah says.
Both sisters competed in the Under 16 girls category for ‘Female Minor Regular Singles’.
The pair were two of seven rangatahi (youth) selected to represent Aotearoa.
Their journey began in 2018 at Glen Eden’s Massé Pool Club where their grandmother was a member.
“I think at first the girls didn’t know how to hold a cue,” says mother Janine Clifford.
During their school holiday break, Aaliyah and Laquiesha trained six hours a day, five days a week.
They also attended training camps where they were mentored by world-class coaches to prepare for the tournament.
Despite winning the title of ‘world champion’, Laquiesha was not immune to the competition nerves.
“She was quite nervous being on a world stage,” Janine says.
Aaliyah was sick during the competition but pushed through her illness to place second in her age group. She says her coach’s voice echoed in her head as motivation.
The pair also had the opportunity to play together as a team. “It was easy” playing in a team together, Aaliyah says.
“Just because we know what to do.”
Aaliyah admits her highlight was making friends from other countries.
“I made a couple from Canada and America.”
The whānau also pay homage to their grandmother Karen Clifford, who is their “biggest supporter”.
“Nana drives [the sisters] to competitions. [She is] pretty much their number one supporter as well after me,” Janine says.
“Her health is not the greatest anymore though, so she doesn’t play as much. You know, the girls do it for her now.”
They were welcomed home by friends and whānau at the local RSA where their efforts were celebrated.
“A lot of them got behind the girls, supported them and just backed them 100 per cent,” Janine says.
Of the seven national representatives, the Clifford sisters were the only competitors of Māori descent. Laquiesha says this made her feel “unique”.
Masse Club supports their members who are selected for the national squad by covering the majority of the costs.
This includes flights, accommodation, uniforms, and entry fees.
Club member Jimmy Henry has coached the Clifford sisters for the past three years and beams with pride over their success.
“We’ve done a lot of hard work and yeah, [it is] well worth it in the end,” he says.
“I’m really excited and happy for them”.
Henry has coached three (other) rangatahi to become world champions.
“[I want to] pass my knowledge and skills and whatever I know onto the younger ones.”
Both Aaliyah and Laquiesha agree that the world championships have been a career highlight.
The pair were originally selected for world champs in 2019 when the Covid-19 pandemic brought their plans to a halt.
“So this year was a long time coming for them to finally go,” Janine says.
Aaliyah hopes to return to the next world championship and claim her sister’s title, while older sister Laquiesha hopes to take a different avenue.
“I want to do a surf rescue programme,” she says.
The pair encourage other young girls to take up the sport.
“It’s just something different to do,” Aaliyah says.
Laquiesha adds, “You can go far because it can take you around the world.”
They agree that a good attitude, patience and perseverance are key to success in this sport.
Hero image: World pool champs Laquiesha and Aaliyah Clifford and mum Janine.