By Adyn Ogle
Eight Tauranga players have been selected in New Zealand teams for the Underwater World Hockey Championships in England in August.
The 10-day tournament begins on August 14 and Tauranga Underwater Hockey Club members will be part of four teams competing.
Gareth Ward-Allen is part of the New Zealand under-24 men's team while Tauranga Girls' College student Eloise Sharpe has been selected for the women's team. The Tauranga Boy's College trio of Thomas Holden, Aiden Heath and Zac Howe are in the under-19 men's side while Ōtūmoetai College's Katelyn Smith and Samantha Keene are in the women's team with Adriana Lipinski named as a reserve.
Sharpe's place in the under-24 team is the culmination of the 17-year-old's journey in the sport, which began when she started high school.
"I have always been a water baby and the family love snorkelling and swimming. I never pictured myself to be sporty person. In Year 9 I went along to underwater hockey with a friend and instantly fell in love with it. It is very much a team sport and it ticked all the boxes," she says.
She played in the junior school team, where she was captain in her second year, and played in regional teams thereafter, including winning the national title with the under-18 team. She has captained the school's senior team and played for the New Zealand trans-Tasman team last year.
Sharpe says playing for New Zealand at the world champs, where the under-24 team is the defending champs, is a great opportunity.
"It was such a vigorous trialling programme, held over the course of six months. It was a weekend trial in the cities every one or two months. There were various fitness tests and board sessions, covering game plans and playing mini games. It was quite tiring, and competitive. I learned heaps and it was a really good experience."
Sharpe says the team dynamic has some differences to other sports, but it is largely the same.
"You need to know where your teammates are sub consciously, they should know their positions so well that they are just there. You have to trust your players.
"I want to be a good support player and good asset to our team. They are amazing girls and I am glad I am sharing the experience, it will be amazing to watch other countries as well and see how they play. It is a great opportunity to learn more skills and learn more about the sport.
"We are trying to score as many goals as possible, we have different plans of attack that we can switch up when we need to. We are a very versatile team."
Tauranga Underwater Hockey Club president Kelvin Maine says focusing on youth is important.
"We have some very dedicated people. It is not a massive club, we have a very strong school base and with the talent we have with adults and ex New Zealand players helping them through, it has led to quite a lot of success at national level.
"It is all about supporting new players, being a minority sport, it can be a tricky to get it recognised. That is all about getting success and getting good coaches in front of kids that are interested. We really look at the younger players and that has been a priority for us."
Maine says membership of the club is normally around 80 to 100 and the sport is great for getting confident in the water.
Tauranga will host the senior Northern Zone Schools Championships at Baywave TECT Aquatic and Leisure Centre this weekend and it will include 24 teams. The top four in the open and girl's sections automatically qualify for the national championships.
The junior northern tournament in Auckland finished on Sunday. Rotorua's John Paul College placed third in the girls section while Tauranga Boys' College were fourth in the open section.
Tauranga Underwater Hockey Club members in NZ teams:
Adriana Lipinski (reserve).