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Hawke's Bay softballer Rongo Rapaea has tasted national title success and now he wants a world title.
An outfielder in the Hastings Boys' High School side which won the national secondary schoolboys title in March, Rapaea admitted to being "pretty confident" about the Junior Black Sox chances of returning home from the Junior World Series in Canada with gold, before the team left the country last night.
"Our training sessions have been hard out and we've got primo coaches," Rapaea, 17, said referring to the team's coaching staff, which includes New Zealand softball legend Mark Sorenson and fellow World Series-winning Black Sox player Dion Nukunuku.
"It's good to be learning off players with their international experience," said Rapaea who plays for the Fast Pitch premier club side.
A month ago the squad, which also includes Hawke's Bay utility Mario Herbert (left), and is managed by Softball Hawke's Bay's executive officer Mark Carter undertook a vigorous New Zealand Army one-day training programme. "It was wicked. But it achieved what the coaching staff wanted ... getting us all working together and supporting one another," said Rapaea, who toured Japan last year with the Junior Black Sox.
Napier Marist premier club player Herbert, 19, toured Japan as a pitcher. Sorenson has given him an outfielder's role for the 10-team World Series. Because of his age and experience Herbert will also be one of the team's leaders. Carter is in his eighth year managing the side. He said this year's team was much better prepared than the 2001 side which finished fourth at the Junior World Series in Australia.
"That team was selected in February and had to play at a World Series in April. The bulk of this year's squad had been working together for almost a year now," Carter said. "Two of our three coaches (Sorenson and Nukunuku) have nine senior or Junior World Series titles between them and that's a major difference from the 2001 side," he said.
Most of the players in the 2001 team were playing reserve grade club softball before travelling to Australia. All of the players in this year's team spent last summer playing in premier club competitions.
"Oh, and this year's team is better presented," he said, pointing to his flash tracksuit top before boarding his flight.
Should the Junior Black Sox achieve their goal and return world champions it will be the first time since in 10 years that New Zealand has boasted both the senior and junior men's world softball champion.
Needless to say it would also mean a world title medal would replace a national title one as Rapaea's most treasured possession. But as he said: "While I'm confident it's important that we take one game at a time."