A Whanganui Collegiate School girls hockey squad return home from Brisbane today after sticking it to the Australians two games to one on a three match debut tour over the past week.
Co-coached by former Whanganui Black Stick Robbie Matthews alongside Anna Symes, the 13-strong squad travelled to the Gold Coast on Monday last week largely heading into the unknown.
The itinerary included a match against West Moreton Anglican College at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre, the venue for the Commonwealth Games hockey on the Wednesday, followed by two games against the East Hockey Club ( an age group clubside) at East Hockey Centre in Brisbane on Friday and again on Sunday at the same venue.
The WCS girls, ranging age from 14 to 18, easily accounted for the West Moreton school team 4-1 before losing 3-0 to the East Hockey Club line-up. In the final match of the tour, the Whanganui girls turned the tables on the clubside winning 3-2.
Symes and Matthews said the focus of Australian hockey was centered more on club competition than school rivalry, something a bit foreign to the Kiwi girls.
Club sides tend to involve the older, more experienced players teaching the younger ones whereas in school teams it's often the teachers taking charge. That's not to say teachers don't do a great job, it's just different when older players can impart their knowledge with younger club players.
"We headed to Australia not knowing the skill level of our opponents and we were quite surprised to beat the West Moreton school side so comprehensively," Symes said.
"They tend to focus more on club hockey than schools, so we were not expecting the pace of the match against East Hockey Club to be so strong. However, in our return match on the Sunday we picked the pace up and managed to come away with a 3-2 win. It should have been a draw, but we'll take the win. Afterwards their coach said we were one of the fastest, fittest teams they had played in a while and they have been in training since December and have just come off their national club championships."
East's Women were runners up in Queensland's premier club competition last year and have several members of the very successful Queensland Scorchers Australian Hockey League team, as well as several Australian and Queensland junior representatives.
They are coached by former Hockeyroo Melanie Wells (nee Twitt) who played over 200 games for Australia. Wells is a dual Olympian and also played in 2 World Cups (1 silver medal), and 2 Commonwealth Games (1 gold medal and 1 bronze).
The young WCS squad features top nationally-ranked track athletes Sophie Redmayne and Ana Brabyn who would have added speed to the line-up that also included Sienna King (goalkeeper), Madison Gundry, Ella Meehan, Madeleine Reid, Jane Abraham, Jula Schraeder, Marguerite Hazelhurst, Lilly Sherriff, Ngatatau Tumango, Ella Thompson and Maddison Gray, a heptathlete of some note.
Matthews said the tour was an invaluable experience for the Whanganui girls, especially a three and a half hour training session with Neil Shearer, the owner of Astro's Hockey whose background includes High Performance Coaching of State teams to running development clinics for beginners.
He runs Coach Accreditation Courses (Level 1 and 2) and currently runs hockey programs for a number of schools.
Gold Coast Hockey Association has recently appointed Shearer as the Regional Coaching Director for 2019 to work with the local clubs to develop and improve the local coaching standards and identify and work with talented players within the region.
"That time with Neil was huge for the girls and playing our first match at the Commonwealth Games venue at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre was really exciting," Matthews said.
The coaches singled out centre half Marguerite Hazelhurst as Player of the Day for the final match of the tour, while goalkeeper Sienna King was also praised for her efforts.
"Younger players Maddie Reid, Ella Meehan and Lilly Sherriff, who only joined this team last year, also rose to the occasion and played well," Symes said.