Hawke's Bay squash coach Mike Willis knows how to produce national title-winning teams.
So when the bloke who coached the Hawke's Bay Lawn club's D grade women to national title glory in 2015 mentioned last night that his Napier Girls High School team had a serious chance of a national title next year it was worth noting. All but one of his NGHS players in the team which finished second at the weekend's Palmerston North-hosted nationals will be available for next year's team.
"Three members of the Palmerston North Girls' High School team which won the title won't be there next year so hopefully we can go one place better," Willis said.
"We've got a good chance if we all put in the work," B1 grader and team No 1 Jess Dean said.
A Year 12 student and fourth-year player, Dean, 17, produced the match of the tournament as NGHS, the third seed in the 19-team girls division, beat second seed Te Puke High School 3-2 in their semifinal. With superb offensive and defensive squash Dean beat a player ranked 19 places above her on the national junior grading list.
She was selected in the five-strong NZSS senior girls team which will take on their New South Wales, Queensland and Australia counterparts in Rockhampton, Queensland later this month. Two of her teammates, Ally and Sam Harding, were named in the five-strong junior team.
Dean and the Harding twins played for Willis in his 2015 D grade team. Dean was also a member of the Hastings B grade team which won its national teams tournament last year.
"Making the New Zealand team was one of my goals for the Palmy tournament. I was pretty happy to have three wins at No 1 and my only loss was to a top A grader," Dean said referring to Courtney Trail of the PNGHS team who beat her 3-0.
"I'll be the No 5 in the New Zealand team and hopefully I play well enough to make the team again next year," Dean said.
She hopes to gain A grade status in the near future. With the ideal mix of skills and fitness during the eight to 10 hours she spends training each week along with regular tips from Willis and her individual coach, Geoff Goodchild, she could tick this off with some good results in Aussie as well as at the national junior championships in Christchurch during the September and October holidays.
Dean's sister, Libby, Sara Dooney and Tegen Willis were the other members of the NGHS team which lost 5-0 to PNGHS in the final. PNGHS won the title for the third consecutive year.
Before their semifinal NGHS beat Katikati College 5-0 and Waikato Diocesan School 5-0. Tegen Willis is the only member of the side who won't be available next year.
Havelock North High School's No 1, Year 9 student Jena Gregory, was also selected in the New Zealand junior girls squad. Gregory and her teammates, Jasmine Roydhouse-Ross, Caitlin Gregory, Amy Miller and Amber Roydhouse-Ross improved on their seeding of ninth to finish seventh.
With the Havelock North boys finishing a creditable fifth in a highly competitive 32-team field, the school took out the trophy for best co-ed school at the tournament. The boys team comprised Ben Remihana, Robert Fridd, Harry Young, Josh Wait, Ryan Miller and Sam Wait.
Westlake Boys' High School A won the boys division for the third consecutive year.