Northland usually has one or two volleyball stars who rise above the rest and break into national age-group sides. This year, four players are flying the Northland flag in three different New Zealand beach or indoor volleyball teams. All four will be jetting off to the United States in July to take on the world's best in the hope of attracting the lucrative eyes of university scouts.
You don't have to look far to see where Northland's next generation of volleyballers are coming from.
In fact, if you go along to the Whangārei Girls' High School (WGHS) gym on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you'll find all of Amoho Karetai-Mahanga, Terina Hauraki, Tarquala Whittaker-Stone and Grace Nikora setting, spiking and sweating, trying to improve their skills before they go up against the world's best.
WGHS students Hauraki, 15, and Nikora, 16, have both been selected in the New Zealand junior (under-19) beach volleyball team to travel to compete in California in July. School-mate Whittaker-Stone, 15, has also been selected in the New Zealand youth (under-17) beach and indoor volleyball teams to travel to California in July and Australia (indoor) in October.
A training partner from Tikipunga High School, Mahanga-Karaetai, 17, has been selected in the New Zealand junior men's indoor volleyball team which also travels to the United States in July to compete.
All four are focused despite their impending overseas ventures. Hauraki, Nikora and Whittaker-Stone will form the core of WGHS' team to compete at the New Zealand interprovincial volleyball tournament in Wellington in June. With no team attending from Tikipunga High School, Mahanga-Karaetai will be competing with a team from Waitakere.
It's obvious to see how serious these players take their trainings. Reaching high above the net, their spikes hit the floor with an almighty clap and any ball that lands long is met with a groan and a frustrated yet determined look.
But behind the furrowed brows and unwavering concentration, the four players love the game because it's given them a whole new family.
"I enjoy playing volleyball because it's quite a team sport, you work together and you have the support and encouragement around you," Hauraki said.
"In volleyball, you learn how to cater for people, you learn people's characteristics and personalities, so that's what we really love."
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As the oldest of the three girls, Nikora recognised the value of family in the game, both on and off the court.
"You've got to be a family and if you're not connected as one, it's quite hard to work together as a team."
Whittaker-Stone, the youngest of the group, had only played volleyball for nine months but could already see how the game differed from others like netball, which she played with Wahine Toa's premier team in Northland's top competition.
"The family bonding we get to do, even when it's not on the court like training or staying together in hotels, is so fun and so different to other sports."
Unfortunately, being a part of this family does not come cheap with tournaments often being held in the centre of the North Island in addition to the upcoming overseas competitions, which will require raising thousands of dollars to afford the bill.
Mahanga-Karaetai knew the cost to play volleyball at a high level, having travelled as far as Iran to play in national age-group competitions. While the expenses were high, Mahanga-Karaetai's love and commitment for the game was enough for him to keep reaching to play at the top level.
"I just can't get enough of it, I don't like having days off because I miss it so much," he said.
"[Volleyball] is not something that you can just walk into like basketball where you can just shoot the ball into the hoop, it takes a lot of time and practise, I've never seen someone walk in and be able to make a perfect pass or set."
All four players will be looking to impress university scouts during their time in the United States. Having seen the quality of overseas teams, Mahanga-Karaetai knew they would have to make the most of their opportunities.
"It's pretty scarce over here, I know some of my friends have made it but not many, maybe three in every year."
WGHS volleyball coach Grant Harrison said over the last seven years there had been a select few to come out of Northland with true potential and nearly all encountered the issue of money.
"For a lot of people, the challenge is the sheer cost of getting to this position which is quite daunting because everything is away from [Northland]."
Despite the monetary roadblock, Harrison said all four players could have a future in the game if they stayed in it.
"[Mahanga- Karaetai] is right up there in terms of ability, I certainly think he's got a bright future.
"[The girls] are a bit younger than [Mahanga- Karaetai] and the fact that they've made it being so young, as long as afford to keep going, there's certainly no lack of potential.
"They're more game players than they are skill-based players which is probably something to do with their Māori heritage, they can read the game very well."
Competing in the United States, where volleyball was much more popular, was key for Harrison who said this was a golden chance to leave a lasting impression.
"It's an opportunity of a lifetime to get in front of some scouts who could give them the chance to advance their career in the United States.
"They are not poor academic students so they will have the opportunity to pick up scholarships."
Whatever came of their trips overseas, Harrison knew his players had the right attitude to be successful in whatever they put their mind to.
"They are immensely proud of where they are and they have that level of determination and the ability to do whatever it takes to succeed."