THE NATIONAL Under-19 women’s water polo team returned home on Thursday evening after winning gold at the CARIFTA Water Polo Championships in Nassau, Bahamas. But despite their success in retaining their Caribbean crown, it was a sour end for four members of the Trinidad and Tobago team whose gold medals were stolen on Wednesday.

According to head of the TT delegation, Jerry Chin Lee, while the team was training on Wednesday, thieves broke into their vehicles in the parking lot, making off with visas, national gear and four gold medals.

The theft did not dampen the mood of the TT unit though as organisers have already been notified and attempts made to get new medals for the four team members.

Also returning on Thursday were the U-15 boys who placed fourth but were playing in a higher age bracket.

Speaking at the VIP Lounge at the Piarco International Airport on Thursday, Sports Minister Darryl Smith commended the team for their brilliant showing in playing undefeated in the tournament and also said he would be making a personal effort for the U-19 girls to get their medals to commemorate their achievement.

He said the Government has taken notice of their success and will support them fully in their endeavours.

“Part of our policy moving forward is focusing on females in sport and young people. You all have a fantastic inspiration in your coach (Nicola Welch). You all have to follow in her footsteps.

The University she attended, Southern California, is a fantastic school. She got a scholarship to attend and play there (and) I would love to hear a positive with regards to you all moving on to get a proper education and play at the highest level,” he said.

Smith promised the Government’s support as the team shifts focus to the CCCAN (Central American and Caribbean Amateur Swimming Confederation) Championships to be hosted here at the National Aquatic Centre in Couva later this year.

“You all sound like you have a very busy schedule. You have CCCAN (Championships) which we have supported and got funding to push forward with (hosting).

The country is 100 percent behind you for that tournament,” he said.

Welch, 23 years old, saluted her players but reminded them they still have to improve.

“Looking back I’m extremely proud of the girls. They’re all talented and dedicated and extremely hard working,” she said.

Discussing the weakness of the squad, she admitted their five versus six defence needs to get better.

“I think they learned that at the tournament and it’s something we have to work on heading for CCCAN,” she said.

She also touched on areas she felt the team excelled and smiled profusely when mentioning the fitness of her players.

“Their regular half court defence was definitely their strong suit. Oh yeah, we were definitely the fittest team at CARIFTA. I’m very pleased,” she declared.

The former St Joseph’s Convent Port of Spain student said she has implemented a hybrid of European and American style of coaching which she was introduced to while studying abroad and was not hesitant to describe herself as a hard taskmaster.

“It’s a little different from regular style Trinidad coaching. I took a little of European and American style that I learned abroad together with a few of my tweaks. Yes (I’m a hard taskmaster) but they’re accustomed to that by now,” she said.