Aquinas College First XI returned home this month buzzing with new experiences from the week-long Kanga Cup tournament in Australia.
The event offered the chance to play against tough competition, and learn a few things along the way.
The draw put Aquinas into a tough pool. First they played the International Football School, a Central Coast Mariners academy, going down 5-2. The rest of the pool games became a matter of small mistakes costing points, as they lost 3-1 to Harrington Hornets, who made the final, 2-1 to Marist FC and 2-0 to Majura Collective.
The play-offs for placings were more successful.
Aquinas beat Balmain DFC 1-0, who had finished third in their pool, with the goal coming from Reuben Fitzgerald. The win gave the team a much-needed morale boost, before their final game against Marist FC again.
Aquinas went behind in the opening 10 minutes but equalised late in the half when Declan Jones headed in a free kick from Jeremy Guernier.
The second half was tense as Aquinas gained some momentum, but goals were still hard to come by. The game moved into extra time and just as the fear of a penalty shootout became an increasing reality, Guernier tapped in a goal five minutes from time.
"While a final-four finish wouldn't have been unfair, to finish fifth out of 10 with a team that was on average two years younger than the others was a great effort," coach Tim Regan said.
"The boys had a tremendous experience out in Canberra but the trip would not have been possible without the support of a number of local Tauranga organisations: Harvey World of Travel, Planwise, Pacific Toyota, DreamCatcher, Westpac, Alsco, Heartland Bank, Farmer AutoVillage, Classic Homes, Young Read Woudberg, Cooney Lees Morgan, Bay Physiotherapy, Pacific Aerospace, TECT Park and Koops Cycles. Many thanks to all for their generosity."
Isabel Jefta, teacher in charge of football at Aquinas, said the Kanga Cup offered a chance for the players to learn and develop as people and footballers. "I was very proud of how the team played, and also how they conducted themselves off the field," she said. "It shows they can work together and I think they will become closer because of the experience."
Aquinas First XI will now look to compete for the top spots in the Baywide Premier division for the first time. They are in joint third place.