Hayden Phillips played an incredible 124 matches for the Palmerston North Boys’ High School First XI hockey team. He made his debut in 2011 as a Year 9 when he was called up to play in the Rankin Cup in Invercargill and was never usurped in the midfield.
In April this year Phillips’ high school coach Bruce Kensington, who also coached Black Sticks striker Nick Wilson, told the Manawatu Standard he believed Phillips could be selected for the Rio Olympics later this year.
“I’m very biased because I watched Nick Wilson and Hayden Phillips closely because (of my) association with Boys’ High….I don’t think he’s (Hayden) doing anything wrong; he’s playing very good hockey,” Kensington said.
Since debuting for the Black Sticks against South Korea, Phillips was picked for the team that’s competed at the Azlan Shah Cup tournament in Malaysia and has now played 11 tests. Phillips was modest when asked about his initial performances for the Black Sticks.
“My debut was against Korea and it was a 3-3 draw. To be honest my performances have been nothing special. I think I have done my job and that’s been enough.”
Phillips loves the Black Sticks environment. The side will be led by two-time Olympian Simon Child (260 tests) and features seven others with 150-plus tests.
“The experienced players have really embraced me. They have been quick to offer me support when I need it and have always encouraged me to be myself.”
Despite a warm reception from veterans and solid form, Phillips was surprised to make the Olympic cut.
“I found out while driving in the car and about a week before the team was made public. I told Mum, but it was hard to contain the news from my friends,” Phillips admits.
Bates won the Super 8 title in 2014 and 2015 at Boys’ High. He was named MVP of the tournament in the final and scored the winning goal against eventual Rankin Cup winners, Hamilton BHS.
“Hockey at Boys’ High played a huge role in my development. I had a strong relationship with co-captain Greg Bates in my final year. Mr Kensington was a great teacher and mentor,” Phillips says.
In July 2015 Phillips was MVP at the National regional championships. His Central under-18 team won the title defeating Midlands 2-1 in the final in North Harbour. Central didn’t drop a game at the tournament, beating Auckland 4-3, Canterbury 4-2, Northland 8-0, Midlands 2-1 and North Harbour 3-0 before reaching the final. Phillips scored the winning goal in the decider.
Phillips’ quick assent in hockey was accelerated by a hockey-mad family. His two sisters and mother are all fine players.
“I was brought up on hockey. I love it. It’s surreal I am training and playing with the guys I used to watch on TV and pretend to be in the back yard,” Phillips says.
The Black Sticks are set to face world No. 1 Australia first up at the Games, with Great Britain (unranked), Belgium (5), Spain (11) and hosts Brazil (32) also in their pool.
“I can’t wait. It’s a massive opportunity,” Phillips concludes.
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