Football's top secondary school competition is now the goal for Whangārei Boys' High School's 1st Xl football players after they won their second consecutive Rex Dawkins tournament title last week.
Playing eight games in five days, Whangārei Boys' High School (WBHS) went unbeaten, toppling Wellington College in the final, 2-nil. The Taupō-held Rex Dawkins tournament featured 24 secondary schools, a tier below the 16-school top national competition.
WBHS would have gone into the competition with confidence after winning in 2018. However, with nine players of their 16-man squad new to the competition, nothing was assured.
A barnstorming performance in pool play calmed any early nerves as the team scored 19 goals in five games. On Monday last week, WBHS opened their account against Gisborne Boys' High School and Auckland's Long Bay College, winning 5-2 and 4-nil respectively.
On the Tuesday, WBHS made it through their toughest pool play encounter with a 2-1 win over Auckland's Northcote College, which was followed by a 5-nil drubbing of Wellington's Tawa College.
A 3-1 win over Thames High School on Wednesday put WBHS into the quarter-finals where they played Auckland's Glendowie College. With no goals at fulltime and no extra time, the teams went straight to a penalty shootout.
Both sides were accurate from the spot after five kicks each and it was down to sudden death. A successful penalty for WBHS put the pressure back on the Aucklanders.
Up stepped WBHS keeper Alfie Thomas-Close, who held his nerve to save the penalty and sent his team to the semifinals.
After the tough quarter-final, WBHS breezed through to the final as they overcame Auckland's Green Bay High School 4-1 to meet Wellington College in the big dance.
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A tense first half saw both teams scoreless at halftime but 10 minutes into the second half WBHS' Reuben Birch finished off an excellent team goal to lead 1-nil. With about 10 minutes to go in the game, WBHS secured the win and the title with a composed shot from Year 11 striker Ben Campbell.
Campbell, who scored 12 goals over the tournament, was awarded the Golden Boot for the most goals scored by one player in the competition.
"The boys were pumped, absolutely ecstatic," WBHS 1st Xl manager Harry Darkins said.
"They put their hearts and souls into defending their title and they were very proud because it was a team effort. Everyone in the team contributed in the tournament."
Darkins noted the boys showed great confidence and character to defend their title in the face of some high-pressure moments.
He credited the leadership showed by captain Deon Hales and congratulated Campbell on his lethal results in front of goal.
"[Campbell] is just hungry, he's fast, skilful and so passionate about football. He has a high workrate and creates chances for himself from that workrate, so he's definitely got a massive future in football."
While the team had been fairly young this year, Darkins said only three players of 16 would be leaving the team, which made any campaign in the top-tier competition a tantalising prospect for the WBHS boys.
It seemed WBHS was in the mood for making history last week as the school's senior basketball team broke a 30-year-old hoodoo with a seventh-place finish at a zone one qualifying tournament in Auckland.
In doing so, the team qualified for the national secondary school tournament which featured the top 24 schools in the country. WBHS last attended the tournament when Northland basketball legend Pero Cameron was a student, about 30 years ago.
WBHS' 1st Xl hockey team finished ninth in New Zealand after competing in the Rankin Cup competition in Christchurch.
Whangārei Girls' High School also saw some success with their hockey teams as the 2nd Xl team won the Chris Arthur Cup 2nd Xl tournament in Stratford. The school's 1st Xl team finished fifth in Auckland's Federation Cup.
WGHS' senior one netball team placed 18th in the A grade of the upper North Island secondary schools tournament in North Harbour, 14 places above their original seeding. The school's 1st Xl football team placed seventh at the Maurice Hulme girls' football tournament in Rotorua.
Northland's co-ed schools featured heavily at the North Island mixed hockey tournament in Taupō with six local schools finishing within the top 13 of the 16-team competition.
The team from Huanui College was the pick of the bunch, winning the tournament with a 7-nil win over Bream Bay College, who finished second. Pompallier Catholic College finished fourth, Kerikeri High School finished seventh, Dargaville High School finished 11th and Otamatea High School finished 13th.
Kamo High School's hockey teams also saw some success with the boys' team placing second at the Olympic Stick tournament in Pukekohe, while the girls finished third at the Chica Gilmer tournament at North Harbour.
Bay of Islands College's netball team made an incredible effort last week to take out C grade in the upper North Island secondary school netball competition at the Northcote Netball Centre in Auckland.
The team punched well above its weight, winning all 10 games against some big schools. As a bonus, BOIC student and New Zealand secondary schools representative Dannielle Dephoff was named in the C grade tournament team as well as being awarded most valuable player in the C grade final.
A thank you must go to all parents, coaches, support staff and volunteers involved with helping all teams participate in these competitions.
Note: this article does not contain every result from every school. Schools were contacted to send results in by a certain deadline.