Whanganui's Rebecca Baker and Sophie Redmayne are national champions again after their Central Under 18 team made it a title three-peat in Wellington on Saturday with a 3-0 shutout of Auckland in the final.
Unfortunately, Patrick Madder and Connor Hoskin could not make it a local double, as their relatively young Central U18 Boys team lost a nail-biting final 2-1 to Canterbury.
In both divisions, Central had topped their pools as they made it to the final four, which is played in another round-robin format where teams face the two sides from the opposite pool, while bringing the result from their previous game with their other pool qualifier through with them.
Therefore, both Central teams began with the four points from their previous win over their pool-mate, but had an awkward start to the playoffs with losses.
The Central girls lost 4-2 to Auckland, despite a 56th minute goal from Redmayne.
That put the team into a must-win scenario against leading title favourites Canterbury, and in a thriller, Central went up 2-0 after 20 minutes, only for Canterbury to pull it back to 2-2 at fulltime after goals in the 37th and 50th minutes.
Entering a penalty shootout, Central held their nerve as Hannah Cotter, captain Rileigh Knapp and Kaitlin Cotter all nailed their attempts consecutively, while Canterbury got their first goal but then missed three straight against goalie Natalia Roughton.
That result sent Central through to the final for a rematch with Auckland, and despite being underdogs after two tough matches, the defending champions turned it around through the Cotter girls.
Kaitlin Cotter nailed a penalty stroke and then a penalty corner in the 35th and 38th minutes, and then Hannah Cotter sealed the win with a field goal in the 56th minute.
Baker, a New Zealand U18 training camp attendee last year, had another strong tournament, getting two goals, although Kaitlin Cotter was unquestionably the standout by scoring 11 of the team's 20 goals in six matches.
Whanganui players in Central's unbeaten run at nationals
There was a similar journey in the boys competition, as Central started the playoff round with a 4-1 loss to Canterbury, who got away to a rapid start with a field goal and penalty corner in the 2nd-3rd minutes.
They scored again in the third quarter, and despite a Central penalty corner closing the gap to 3-1, they had left their run too late and Canterbury scored again before fulltime.
That put Central into a must-win situation with Auckland.
"Auckland was like a semifinal, but a North Harbour win over Canterbury would have been same points, and that would have made it really complicated, but fortunately that didn't happen," said assistant coach Jan Dixon, of Hockey Wanganui.
After a scoreless first half, Central went down 1-0 in the third quarter, but in a clutch performance, they took advantage of a yellow card for Auckland to score three rapid-fire goals from the 54th to 58th minutes for a 3-1 win.
Hoskin scored the equalising goal in the 54th minute from a penalty corner, with captain Daniel Foss and Jonathan McDonald following up in quick succession with a penalty stroke and field goal respectively.
And so that put Central through to the final and a rematch with Canterbury, where the underdogs just could not quite peg them back despite a much-improved performance.
Again, Canterbury made a fast start with a field goal in the sixth minute, but this time Central put the brakes on, and Foss was able to equalise with a penalty stroke in the second quarter.
Canterbury converted a penalty corner not long after halftime to regain the lead, and from there, the teams were at a stalemate.
Central's Samuel Porter picked up a yellow card with three minutes left, as his team was desperate to force an equaliser and send the match to penalties.
"It was a really good game, could have gone either way," said Dixon.
"We had opportunities, but both teams had opportunities, it was a really fast game."
Overall, Dixon was happy with the adaptable performances of the two Whanganui boys, as 17-year-old Madder was at his third U18 national tournament, while Hoskin, 16, was on debut.
"They played really well. Patrick we put on defence for the last two games, he went really well back there.
"Connor, we put him up front, when he usually plays mid for school."
The team got 13 goals in the tournament, with Foss the top scorer with four.
Being held at the same time in Pukekohe was the National Under 18 Men's Association tournament, consisting of 16 provincial teams made up of the best players not selected for the Vantage nationals.
Coached by Robbie Matthews, the Wanganui U18 team had to settle for 13th overall.
A 2-1 loss to Manawatu in their last pool game on Wednesday put Whanganui through to the lower tier of playoffs, where they lost a penalty shootout 3-2 to Counties Manukau, after both teams were deadlocked 1-1 at fulltime.
Wanganui rebounded to smash Thames Valley 10-0, scoring half of their entire total of goals for the six-game tournament, which included James Craig getting a hat trick in the second quarter alone.
The team then finished their tournament with a 2-0 win over North Harbour Development in the playoff for 13th-14th on Saturday morning.
Craig was the top goal-scorer with seven, while their most experienced player in Travis Bayler got five.
Bayler and a number of his team mates will have a quick turnaround by returning to the Whanganui Men's club team for their game with Palmerston North Boys High School at McDonald's Stadium on early Thursday evening.
It is their second game of Hockey Manawatu's Premier Group B round, and Whanganui need a good result after losing their opening match to High School Hockey Club A, 5-3 on July 7.