WANGANUI'S young hockey exponents have gained their first national title as the 2015 National Under 18 Men's Regional tournament was an unqualified success for the Central North Island team.
Starting on July 5 at Rosedale Park in Albany, Central went through the tournament undefeated, winning a pulsating final with Midlands 2-1 after neither team could score in the second half.
Wanganui's Lee Moir was a standout as the second-highest goal scorer for Central with four " making three field goals and one penalty corner.
Ryan Gray, still only 15, did very well for his age, scoring two goals in the tournament, while an injury in the original squad allowed non-travelling reserve Ben Pilet to also join the team.
Moir scored Central's opening goal of the tournament while Gray added a second-half field goal in the 4-3 win over Auckland.
The close scoreline Moir put down to opening match "jitters" for the team. "As the games went on, we got better," he said.
"It was always going to be Midlands or North Harbour meeting [us] in the final."
Central were more comfortable in their other Pool A games " beating Canterbury 4-2 with Moir scoring again, while both he and Gray got on the sheet in the 8-0 thrashing of Northland the following day.
That moved them into the cross-pool matches where Central faced Midlands and beat them 2-1, with Moir scoring in the 41st minute and then Central's top goal scorer Hayden Phillips getting the crucial 70th minute goal to break the deadlock.
The roll continued as Central beat the home team North Harbour 3-0 to book themselves a finals berth on Saturday, again facing Midlands.
Central's Matt Chard got the team away to a brilliant start by converting a penalty corner in the first minute, while Phillip's added his fifth goal for the tournament 17m later.
But Midlands closed the gap to 2-1 with a field goal in the 27th minute and from there, neither team could breach the defence.
"It was super tense, the last five minutes [Midlands] took their keeper off so they had 11 field players," said Moir.
"The last minute, they had five shots on goal. Our keeper stopped all of them. They kept hammering it in there. We were pretty knackered ..."
Keeping an eye on the action and an eye on the clock for a final 30s that seemed to stretch forever, the Central players exploded at the whistle. " ... we all come together and did cheers," said Moir.
There was not the same success in the Under 18s Women's Regional although the Central North Island team, which was coached by Collegian's Jan Dixon and included Wanganui's Beth Norman and Emma Rainey, finished strongly to claim fifth place. Central started with a win over North Harbour following a 3-2 penalty shootout after both teams were deadlocked 1-1 at fulltime.
Rainey could not connect with her shootout attempt but Norman made hers the next time up to give Central a 2-1 advantage at that stage.
The next day, Central lost to Midlands 3-1 with Norman scoring their sole goal.
Rainey scored their only goal in the 3-1 loss to Northland, which put them out of the running for the title, but Central improved from that point, beating both Southern and Capital 2-1. That put Central into the playoff for 5th-6th, again playing Capital, and they ran out comfortable 4-0 winners, with Norman one of the goal-scorers.
The 2015 Under 18 Men's Association tournament was held at the same time, made up of 16 provincial teams selected from the players who did not make the regional squads.
Coached by Matt Belk, the Wanganui team did not secure a win but were more competitive in the latter half of the tournament. Tyler Nicoll-Hylton scored three of the team's six goals. After being well beaten by North Harbour (7-0), Auckland (2-0) and Horowhenua (5-1), Wanganui were leading Counties Manukau before losing 2-1, then traded goals back-and-forth with Thames Valley, just missing out 4-3. Wanganui's last game was a 4-1 loss to Tasman.