Three Tauranga teams punched their tickets to nationals after solid performances at the senior Northern Zone Secondary Schools Underwater Hockey Championships in Tauranga at the weekend.
Ōtūmoetai College came agonisingly close to the regional title as they lost 3-2 to Epsom Girls' Grammar A in the girls' final at Baywave TECT Aquatic & Leisure Centre on Sunday. The two sides were locked at 2-all at the end of regular time, forcing the game into sudden-death. Epsom scored the winner after nearly three minutes of extra time.
It was the only defeat for Ōtūmoetai at the two-day tournament despite having just one substitute as injury and illness provided a less-than-ideal build-up for the team.
The top four sides in both the open and girls' sections qualified for the national championships in Wellington in September. Tauranga Boys' College qualified after losing 2-1 to Howick College in the open final, while Tauranga Girls' College will also compete in Wellington after placing fourth in the girls' section.
Ōtūmoetai coach Kelly Saunders says she is happy with how the team went.
"We have worked on getting this result for five years. The goal was to qualify for nationals and every other year we have just scraped in. We had made it to nationals when the girls were juniors, either through an extra team being allowed or a team dropping out. This year we have well and truly earned our spot."
Ōtūmoetai had comfortable wins over Howick College and Epsom Girls' Grammar B before a 2-all draw with Diocesan School for Girls A in their final pool game. Ōtūmoetai's superior goal difference put them through as the number one seed from the pool and they beat Diocesan 6-0 in the quarterfinal. A tense 1-0 victory in the semifinal over rivals Tauranga Girls' College booked their place in the final.
Saunders says she is proud of the way her team responded to the pre-tournament challenges.
"The teamwork and coming together after sickness and injury was great – they kept grinding and working together. All the training we have gone over, they kept it all on board this weekend and we did our set plays well as a team."
She says the level of competition at nationals will be another step up.
"We are going to have to keep going with our goal of winning a medal and stay as a close-knit team and working as a team with every opportunity we get."
We have worked on getting this result for five years.
Tournament director Anton Williams was rapt with what he saw over the weekend.
"The most impressive thing was the level of even competition between the top four or five teams in each grade. We had a couple of draws which you don't see very often.
"The teams going to nationals, many of those players will be trialling for regional teams for interzone tournaments at the end of the year as well."
Williams believes the sport is in good shape in the Western Bay.
"It ebbs and flows. In Tauranga we have seen a big group that have developed through from juniors including seven Tauranga players heading to world champs. We are in a good position in the Bay of Plenty where we have ridden on some success."
Senior Northern Zone Secondary Schools Underwater Hockey Championships final standings
(Top four qualify for the national championships)
1st Epsom Girls' Grammar A, 2nd Ōtūmoetai College, 3rd Diocesan School for Girls A 4th Tauranga Girls' College, 5th Glendowie College, 6th Howick College, 7th Epsom Girls' Grammar B, 8th Diocesan School for Girls B.
1st Howick College, 2nd Tauranga Boys' College, 3rd Glendowie College, 4th Trident High School B, 5th Mahurangi College, 6th Trident High School A, 7th Mt Albert Grammar School, 8th Glendowie College, 9th Rotorua Boys' High School, 10th Northcote College.