Ask Adam Woon what he thinks will be Hawke's Bay's biggest strength at this week's national under-17 boys' softball tournament in Hastings and he stomps the ground.
"Home ground advantage. Here at Akina Park that has to be worth a couple of runs in each game ... it's a big boost when you are playing in front of family," the Hawke's Bay captain explained before his team went into camp this morning to prepare for the 12-team four-day event which begins on Thursday.
"Hopefully we can win this one at home. It's my third and last tournament in this age group and if I have to compare this Bay team with all the others I've been in over the years this is definitely one of the strongest," Woon said.
The Hastings Boys' High School Year 12 student played in four Hawke's Bay under-13 teams and four under-15 teams as well as one under-19 side in addition to his three under-17 teams. While Woon has won two national school titles, one at senior division two level and another at junior division one level, he has yet to win one in Hawke's Bay colours.
"A Hawke's Bay age group team hasn't won a national title here at Akina since 2008 when the under-19 boys did, so that's another incentive," Woon said.
A Saints premier men's team player, Woon, will battle with Fast Pitch Rockets premier player Tridan McClutchie for the No1 pitching role this week. Woon, McClutchie and Maraenui Pumas premier player Callum Carson will form the meat of the Bay's batting order at three, four and five.
"Form will dictate the respective berths there," Woon's father and Hawke's Bay head coach Paul Woon said.
Like his son, coach Woon, is impressed with the strength and depth within the squad.
"We've got five rookies but they are all good players. Injuries are always a concern but from 1 to 15 I couldn't be happier with the talent I've got."
He agreed his captain was in the best shape and form of his career. Woon's three home runs in the premier comp to date is further proof.
Last season's Hawke's Bay under-17s MVP, Woon, is full of appreciation for the work Fast Pitch Giants Canadian pitcher Kyle Crawford has put into him during the past two months. Through Crawford, Woon is hoping to score a playing stint in Canada from March.
Another of his goals is a berth in the 2016 Junior Black Sox squad. The national selectors for that team will be among the scouts at this week's tournament. Like his teammates Woon has benefited from extra training with a personal trainer in recent weeks. CrossFit sessions and speed work have been priorities.
"We might not have enjoyed all the sessions at the time but we appreciate the results. I know I'm definitely faster," Woon said.
In their final training game on Sunday the Hawke's Bay under-17s were beaten 9-7 by the Central Vikings senior men's rep team. This is another indication the hosts are more than ready for nationals.
The 12 teams have been divided into two sections of six. The top two teams from each section qualify for the top playoff division and these four teams have a round robin from which the top two teams qualify for Sunday's final.
Woon agreed Hawke's Bay have drawn the easier of the two sections with Wellington, Canterbury and the two Auckland teams starting in the other section alongside Hutt Valley and Tairawhiti.
"Our draw is almost as good as the home ground advantage," he added.