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"We choked in the final against Westlake Boys', thrown off by the pressure of the crowd we lost each set closely. Going home with the silver medal was very hard to take and it took a long time to bounce back." Claire Hunter frankly admits of Manurewa High School’s 2016 National Secondary Schools volleyball final defeat.
The manager of the senior team was much happier on Friday as Henry Ap’e led Manurewa to National glory, a title the best part of four years in the making.
"We trained pretty much every day and some of us have travelled to Fiji, Thailand, America, Wellington and Nelson to play with school, rep and club teams. I am really proud of the boys," hailed Ap'e.
For the past three years Manurewa have been the Auckland Senior Champions. Most of the team members have been involved with the squad since 2014, a breakthrough year for Manurewa volleyball.
"I started playing volleyball a few years before College. I started taking it seriously in Year 9. In 2014 we won the junior Auckland and North Island titles. I love the thrill of the game and the team culture," Ap’e enthuses.
In 2015 Manurewa bombed at Nationals and finished in a disappointing ninth place. Ap’e, a New Zealand age-group rep, became captain in 2016 and was identified as a suitable skipper because of his natural leadership skills.
"My job is to encourage the boys and be as positive as I can. We have so much talent here. The future is really positive too," Ap’e says.
With the memory of 2016 spurring them on, Manurewa steamrolled their way to the Auckland title dropping just three sets to Takapuna Grammar School.
At Nationals Manurewa breezed through their initial pool games until they come unstuck against perennial powerhouse Western Heights High School. Was there are fear things could become implode again?
"It was disappointing to lose to Western Heights, but we had to stay positive. It was a mental thing." Ap’e insists.
Western Heights would be the side to unravel as Manurewa regrouped to make the final against Orewa College, a school they had trounced in the Auckland competition.
"The strategy for the final was to play our own game. There is a big difference between Auckland and Nationals so we had to bring our A game, but our own game." Ap'e says.
Manurewa made an assured start and captured the first set 25-16. Two close sets followed, but Manurewa avoided the mistakes of the previous year to prevail 25-23, 25-23.
"I was actually a bit sad after we won because it was then I realised it would be my last game of volleyball for Manurewa. It's so exciting. It's a great achievement by the team." Ap’e reflects.
Ap'e, the Auckland MVP, won't be playing his last game of volleyball. He is hunting a scholarship in the US and was approached by agents at Nationals.
Manurewa is a decile one school so money to support the program isn't always easy to come by. PlaceMakers and Auckland Motors Mitsubishi have been particularly keen supporters.
Three Manurewa High School players made the tournament team: Wanyae Suafo’a
Henry Ap’e and Tala Potifara (Tournament MVP).