Sport: Water Polo
Olympic History: Tokyo debutant
Year Born: 2000
Unlike many of her fellow players, it was not love at first sight – or touch – for Matilda 'Tilly' Kearns, when as a 13-year-old she jumped into the deep end of the Water Polo pool.
"At first I didn't really like it because I didn't really get it. I did it for four weeks and it was barely Water Polo, it was like bull-rush with a ball," she said of her first foray in the sport.
"I stopped playing it but then came back the next season, and because I was bigger than everyone I was better at it and started to like it from there," said Tilly, of her 176cm frame.
Tilly joined the Sydney Northern Beaches Breakers (SNBB) club and came through the age groups and as soon as she made her first NSW state team, she was determined for Olympic glory.
A ‘Water Polo high-performance camp in July 2018 fuelled that fire a little more.
"I loved the camp, it just sparked my love for the sport again. It was really tactical, it was about learning the plays and combinations," Tilly said.
Now with the Sydney University Lions, with several Stingers as teammates, Tilly is about to realise her Olympic dream after competing at the 2016, 2017 and 2018 FINA World Junior Championships.
She scored 29 goals in her freshman year in 2019 with the University of Southern California (USC) Trojans but didn't return for the 2020 season (COVID-19) or 2021 to concentrate on Tokyo preparations. She hopes to complete her USC studies in due course.
Tilly is one of four children to mum Julie and Wallabies legend Phil Kearns, who won two World Cups for Australia in rugby union (1991, 1999), and who actually played some Water Polo in his youth.