They are the best in the land when it comes to under-18 females but the Central hockey team's inspiration to reach the pinnacle comes almost 19,000km away from Napier.

"We followed the Great Britain team in how their values go," says striker Olivia Shannon of the women's internationals who won gold at the Rio Olympics.

The Britons' mantra was pretty simple in inspiring themselves on the way to captivating four nations: "Create history and inspire the future".

A laughing Shannon is quick to clarify that there's nothing wrong with the way the Black Sticks women go about their business.


"Be influential, be the inspiration and make history," says the 16-year-old whose team borrowed the concept for the Vantage National U18 Championship in Whangarei from July 9-15.

Some of the team values entailed doing the little things that foster a sense of unity. That ruled out formation of cliques or any favourites.

Respect was up there, too, not just towards coaches and captains but each other as well as as opposition and officials.

Throw in the biggie of commitment and you start getting the picture of a magnetic culture of transformation that ensured they stayed true to those values.

"As a team it was essential we put in the effort in the first place to get to places in travelling for training," says the Iona College year 11 boarder who hails from Feilding and who was Central's top scorer with five goals and the second highest in the tourney.

The Anna Crowley-captained side was undefeated. Scalps included a 6-1 start over Northland and pipping Midlands 3-2 before Canterbury took them to a 4-3 penalty shootout after the sides were locked 2-all at fulltime.

"It was quite nerve-racking," says Shannon who took one penalty shot herself .

"You have to be in the moment so you have to block everything out and take a big breath before you go so it's quite an intense moment."

Last year the Central women had to contend with gut-wrenching silver medals after succumbing in a penalty shootout to Auckland when the sides were locked at 3-all after regulation time in Palmerston North.

That stumble on the final hurdle became the ideal catalyst to spur on the players last weekend.

In Whangarei, Central overwhelmed North Harbour 4-1 before exorcising their demons against Auckland 4-0.

"We were quite determined to win that game."

It was a don't-argue 4-1 against Canterbury for gold.

Needless to say, words fail her in describing what the crown means for someone who hopes to represent her country in Black Sticks colours some day.

Shannon believes it has to do with the team ethos which had contributed to a harmonious existence during the week-long tourney. No doubt having the nous of coach Verity Sharland, of Palmerston North, and her assistant, Henry Mulligan, of Gisborne, was essential in moulding that template of solidarity.

What makes it even more remarkable is that the team, comprising players from a scattered catchment in the region, had only four training sessions in Levin before heading off to the nationals this year.

The other Bay players are midfielder Arabella Shield, defender Rileigh Knapp and strikers Bella Greig, Kaitlin Cotter and Olivia Ward.

Midfielder Emma Rainey, of Whanganui, was named the tournament's MVP.

However, the girls could relate to the Central men's 6-0 loss to Canterbury in the final at the same venue.

"We tried to cheer them up a bit," says Shannon, who got into hockey at Waituna West School when friend Digby Werthmuller introduced her to the sport.

Her father, Greg, a livestock farmer, and mum Rachel, a banker, supported her although they didn't play the game.

"I wanted a change of sport because I was playing rugby for a while," says the former centre who made the switch in year 6.

The Central men's co-captain, Harry Lawson, was named tournament MVP because he "played consistently throughout the week".

Lawson says the blowout result in the final was due to a tactical move to replace the goalkeeper, Scott Hinds (HBHS), with a midfield player to enable them to push up when they were 3-0 down with just 10 minutes left.

"It got pretty close and the guys didn't front up on the day," says the 18-year-old final-year Lindisfarne College pupil, adding the players were happy with their silver medals.

Central beat Southland 6-4, Capital 5-2 and North Harbour 1-0 in the crossover match but lost 2-0 to Canterbury, 4-1 in penalty shootout to Midlands and 1-0 to North Harbour in pool matches.

To put the tough tourney in context, Lawson says Midlands finished last overall.

However, it was an improvement from fourth placing last year, especially for four of the Bay players who will move to the U21s this time next year.

Defenders Dean Gray (Lindisfarne) and Sachan Dadrah (HBHS), and midfielder Cameron Gladding (co-skipper out of school) were the other Bay players.

Only Dadrah will remain in the U18s.