Suggest to Hawke's Bay's top beach sprint coach Greg Larsen one of his stars may have peaked too early in the countdown to the national championships and you get a quick reply.
"No way ... he's on fire."
Ocean Beach Kiwi mentor Larsen was referring to Napier Boys' High School speedster Wesley Akeripa who he believed was on track to retain his under-19 title at the Gisborne-hosted nationals from March 12 to 15.
"Wesley likes winning beach sprint races. No other beach sprinters seem to be able to get close to him and if they do he finds another gear and accelerates away. He has a long leg stride which gives him a Usain Bolt look about him when he races and it doesn't matter if he is on hard or soft sand, the result is the same," Larsen said.
New Zealand development team member Akeripa has a haul of 12 golds and one silver medal in beach sprint, flags and relay events from this summer's Hawke's Bay, Central Region and Eastern Region champs. Larsen predicted Akeripa will make the New Zealand team in the near future.
At this summer's national secondary schools athletics championships Akeripa finished seventh in the 100 metres on the track in a field which included Edward Osei-Nketia.
In Gisborne Akeripa will also be a member of the OBK under-19 boys relay team which will chase a fourth consecutive national title. Following the retirements of multiple national champions Ben Lewis and Kyle Corneilissen and a broken wrist to Grayson Hesketh the team will have a new look with Zethan Bennett, Adam Bibby, Corban Watson and possibly Hesketh if he recovers contesting places to join Akeripa and multiple national champion Reece Akuhata.
Bibby, Bennett, Akeripa and Akuhata won the Hawke's Bay and Central Region titles and were upgraded from bronze to silver after first place winners Waikanae were disqualified at Eastern Regionals. Waikanae, Omanu and Red Beach are expected to provide the OBK lads with some tough competition.
"They will need to improve if they want to retain their title," Larsen said.
Akuhata is the national under-19 beach flags titleholder. Work commitments and niggly injuries have prevented him from training as hard as in previous seasons.
However Akuhata still managed to collect three gold and two silver medals in flags, sprints and relays to date. He missed the Hawke's Bay champs because of university commitments.
"Reece displayed good enough form at Eastern Regionals to indicate he will be a threat at nationals. If he sticks to his training programme he will be back to his best by the time he gets to Gisborne," Larsen said.
Ocean Beach Kiwi's under-16 boys relay team will also seek a fourth consecutive national title. With Hesketh and Bennett moving up to the under-19 group this season Taradale High School's Angus Dew and Brandon Shadbolt have been recruited. They have joined Watson and Llewellen Ward-Leikis from last season's team.
This quartet were unbeaten at the Hawke's Bay, Central Region and Eastern Region champs and Larsen believed they have an ideal opportunity to retain the title. Larsen is also impressed with his club's emerging women's sprint talent.
Havelock North High School's Jess Tucker is the club's fastest female on hard sand. To date this season Tucker has won six golds, one silver and two bronze medals in sprints, flags and relays.
However she is being challenged by first-year young guns Cleo Roderick and Grace Akeripa. Iona College's Roderick, a granddaughter of the late Doug Curtis, a Hawke's Bay Magpies winger during the 1966 to 1969 Ranfurly Shield era, has won five golds, three silver and two bronze medals and Akeripa has won two golds, four silvers and two bronze in under-16 and open sprints, flags and relays to date.
Olivia Kirkpatrick proved she is strong on the soft sand and finished ahead of Tucker in the final of the under-19 sprint at Eastern Regionals. These sprinters will be joined by teammates Elle Lovatt, Monique Poa, Zoe Grupp and Laura Johnson to form strong relay teams in the under-16, under-19 and open age groups at nationals.
The under-16 team of Roderick, Akeripa, Lovatt and Poa were second to Mount Maunganui at Eastern Regions and Larsen believed they have a good chance of making podium at nationals.
Larsen labelled Lindisfarne College student Watson as his big improver of the season. The Hawke's Bay under-16 rugby representative displays the same determination on the sand as he does on the rugby field and has won seven gold and four silver medals in sprints, flags and relays to date this season.
"Corban has an excellent work ethic and does not miss a training session. His one relay gold and silvers in the sprint and flags at Eastern Regionals shows he on track to make podium at nationals," Larsen said.