The future of New Zealand women's squash looks bright, thanks in part to two of Northland's up-and-coming juniors.
Natalie Sayes, 14, and Annmarie Holst, 18, have both enjoyed a great run of form over the past month, which has propelled them into contention for the under-19 squad to compete in the world junior individual and team championships in Malaysia starting in July.
Both players were selected to represent New Zealand in the junior transtasman test series against Australia on April 11-12 at Remuera Rackets Club in Auckland. Holst and Sayes were two of only five players to win both their singles matches in a squad which ranged from under-13 to under-19.
Holst competed in the under-19 division while Sayes played above her age-group in the under-17 division and beat the top two Australian under-17 girls without dropping a game.
The pair then competed in the Oceania junior championships at the same squash club from April 13-16. Sayes strongly defended her under-15 title win from 2018, while Holst finished fourth in the under-19 girls' division.
Sayes went on to claim revenge in the Australian junior open in Sydney on April 18-21 after finishing runner-up last year. Holst did not participate in this competition.
Finally, the two players took on the New Zealand junior open from April 26-28 in Tauranga in the girls' open division. Seeded fifth, Sayes went on to finish third, losing in four sets to the top seed and eventual winner, Kaitlyn Watts.
Seeded sixth, Holst drew number three seed Georgia Robcke in the quarterfinals and lost in three sets to finish sixth.
The pair now wait to hear from national selectors but as far as Sayes was concerned, April had been a successful month.
"After the test series I was ready for Oceanias and everything worked out there, and then in the Australian open, I carried on achieving my goals," Sayes said.
"I was expecting to come my seed (fifth) in the NZ open because I wasn't overly confident against some players, but I wouldn't have dreamed of coming third, the training has really paid off."
After a whirlwind schedule which saw her compete in four tournaments in 17 days, Sayes was hopeful she had done enough to impress the selectors.
"If I could get into the [world junior] team, that's a big goal but you just don't know what [the selectors] are thinking and what they are going to do."
Along with her successes, the young Takapuna Grammar student said she relished the chance to play alongside a fellow Northlander in Holst during the test series against Australia.
"It was awesome because the whole time you're with people who have come from all over the place, so it was cool to have a bit of Northland pride together."
Holst, who is studying a conjoint exercise and business degree at University of Auckland, said she was optimistic going into the tournaments.
"I was backing all the summer training I'd done and hoping for good results and playing to my ability," Holst said.
Originally not picked to play in the test series, the 18-year-old was selected after Kaitlyn Watts withdrew due to injury. Holst said her two wins showed she could battle through the nerves and stay focused on the task at hand.
"It was pretty rewarding that [the selectors] see me as being up there with the juniors and it made the last year's results worthwhile."
Despite an excellent third-place finish in New Zealand's national competition last year in the under-19 girls' division, Holst suffered an injury to her lower back in April, 2018 which meant she could not compete in last year's NZ junior open or be up for selection for the world junior squad.
"It took a while to come right," Holst said.
"It was pretty challenging but I bounced back and got a good result at nationals."
Now unsure of her selection fate, Holst was already looking ahead to her future in squash which was firmly set in Northland.
"I want to keep representing Northland and keep up with the senior team because Northland is home," she said.
Other results from Northland squash players at the NZ junior open were Riley-Jack Vette-Blomquist beating his seeding by one and placed eighth in the boys' open division, while Shea Ferguson beat her seeding in the girls' open division, placing 24th from 27th seed.
Max Saunders finished 10th as the 15th seed in division one boys. In the division one girls, Pippa Saunders finished third while Chelsea Traill came fifth as the ninth seed. Cam Griffin placed third in the division one boys, with third seed Alex Greatorex making his final in the division three boys and finishing second.
In the J grade division, Emmie Ferguson made her final and placed runner-up while in the J grade boys, Zac Laing placing fourth from his seventh seed, Tane Traill fifth, Ollie Maunder sixth and Jamie Greaterox 10th.