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Tilly Kearns



Place of Birth




Junior Club

Sydney Northern Beaches Breakers

Senior Club

University of Southern California, and Sydney Lions University


Rebecca Rippon

Olympic History

Tokyo 2020

Paris 2024

High School

Queenwood School for Girls

Career Events

Water Polo Women's Tournament


Tilly's Story

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,” Tilly said, 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.

Tilly quickly developed into a classic centre-forward with an eye for goal. Playing with the Sydney University Lions, she was selected to compete in 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 would not return for the 2020 season (COVID-19) or 2021 to concentrate on Tokyo preparations. However, she was back at USC in 2022, where she was top scorer for the Trojans with 64 goals. In 2023, she scored 69 goals, making her the second-highest Trojans scorer and No. 16 on USC’s career scoring leaderboard with 162 goals.

Tilly did not return to USC in 2024 in order to concentrate on preparing for the Paris Olympics.

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.

Tilly made her Olympic debut at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games. Australia enjoyed an impressive start to the tournament, securing a group stage record of 3-1. This set up a quarter-final tie against the ROC, which the Stingers lost in heartbreaking fashion 9-8.

The squad went on to record consecutive victories against Canada and the Netherlands, earning them a fifth place overall at the Games.

In their first international competition after Tokyo, the Stingers claimed gold at the FINA World League International Cup in Peru in March 2022.

After going undefeated through the pool matches to set up a gold medal clash with the United States, Australia took an early lead and held off fightbacks from the Americans in the second and third quarters to triumph 11-4.

That year, Australia finished sixth at the World Championships in Budapest, going down 8-5 to Spain in the play-off for fifth.

Ahead of the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Tilly was listed among the players to watch at the tournament, described as “young and hungry.”

The Stingers pulled off wins over China and France in Fukuoka before a thrilling 9-8 quarter-final victory over Greece. Beaten by just two goals in the semi-final against Spain, Australia then lost to Italy in the play-off for bronze, again by two goals.

At the 2024 World Championships in Doha, Australia finished sixth, beating Britain 20-8 in the round of 16 before going down by a point to the USA in the quarter-finals.

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