About 1300 athletes from 215 schools nationwide will gather in Tauranga this weekend for the annual New Zealand Schools Track and Field and Road Race Championships.
In a year when coronavirus led to the cancellation of many regional championships in March followed by the North Island Schools in April and the New Zealand Schools Cross Country in September, support from throughout New Zealand for the Tauranga event is heartening.
The championships will of course not have the small group of Pacific Island competitors of recent years because of border restrictions. NCEA exams being put back by a week also forced this major athletic event to make a similar move, leading to clashes with other events such as Condor 7s.
In this year it exciting and encouraging that athletes from throughout the country from the far south to the far north will be in Tauranga for three days of action. The meet starts on Friday afternoon through to 5pm on Sunday. The road races will be held on Sunday, which will be action-packed with track finals.
Whanganui is represented by large teams from Whanganui Collegiate (33) and Whanganui High School (20). Nga Tawa is represented by a small group. reflecting the hard work of the Horner's evident in the winter in cross country.
Paige Cromarty who is making such good progress over 400m, is the sole Whanganui Girls' College athlete making her senior track debut.
Collegiate and High School may not return with their record medal haul of last year, but athletesfrom the neighbouring schools should make some impact at the championships.
Two former Whanganui athletes Tayla Brunger and Zach Bellamy (Taylor) will be competing for Te Aho O Te Kura Pounamu (Correspondence School) and have the experience and credentials to succeed over their respective sprints (Brunger 100m ,400m) and middle distance (Taylor 800m and 1500m).
Last year, Nathaniel Kirk and Maggie Jones (High School) won junior hurdle medals. Both step up to seniors into stronger fields but have the credentials to do well.
Kirk has impressed especially over 300m hurdles winning all his races with ease and running under 40 seconds on his last three outings. He also will have his first major outing over 110m hurdles.
This promising Year 11 athlete has a bright future. The weekend is a first step on that journey.
Jones was selected for New Zealand Schools last December but did not have the chance to put on the black singlet with the disappointing cancellation of the Tour. She has the ability to make Tauranga a major step in her comeback.
Kirk and Jones bring depth and strength to the Whanganui High School relay teams. They excelled last year and have a depth of experienced athletes like Flynn Johnstone, Jakob Morehouse, Ryan Bayler, Cassie Glentworth , Charlotte Baker and others to again challenge.
Sophie Andrews in her final year at Whanganui High School has given great service as a thrower and will be contesting the senior discus, javelin and hammer. In the league meetings she has scored invaluable points for Whanganui and has impressed notably in javelin and hammer.
The large Whanganui Collegiate team lacks some of the experience of recent years. Injuries to international athletes Emma Osborne and Genna Maples have seriously weakened the senior end of the team.
Lucas Martin has won consecutive silver medals over the 3000m walk and may have to settle once again for silver. Last year's winner Daniel du Toit (Wellington) returns and has defeated Martin in the league meetings. The gap is closing and du Toit, disqualified in the national Road and Track Champs will, like all walkers, have to be careful and legal.
George Lambert, so impressive in the country, will concentrate on the road race but will also join teammate Ben Conder over the Steeples later on Sunday.
Genna Maples who had such a good winter injured her hamstring at pre-season camp and after four years of individual sprint medals will not be competing over the 100m or 200m.
Maples has found the longer hurdles with its rhythm and pace no problem and has used this as part of her rehabilitation towards resurrecting her sprinting and jumping in early 2021.
She could threaten Janine Ashbridge's 1991 Collegiate record of 44.6 which would be competitive in Tauranga.
It is pleasing to see Nga Tawa back with a team at the championships and the well performed Emma Ferguson could make an individual and team impact on the road.
The larger Whanganui High School and Collegiate teams have a focus on younger athletes and inevitably some new talent will appear, which I will report on next week.