For a group of outgoing year 13 players including captain and tournament MVP McKayler Moore this past weekend’s maiden NZSS touch title for Columba College was a few years in the making.
“For three of us, this is was our fifth year coming to nationals, and for the four of us in the team leaving school it was going to be the last 15 minutes in our Columba singlets,” said McKayler of the second half in the final that propelled them to the title against Saint Kentigern College.
Columba College beat Hamilton Girls’ High School and then St Kent’s on the third and final day of the annual NZSS tournament at Auckland’s Bruce Pulman Park to be crowned national champions for the first time – and the first Otago school to win the title.
In their semi-final they beat 2016 winners and last year’s runners-up Hamilton Girls’ High School 7-4 before beating defending champions Saint Kentigern College 7-4 in the final. Columba had lost to St Kent’s earlier in the tournament.
After finishing fifth last year, McKayler said going into finals day Columba had nothing to lose against the two big North Island schools.
“Those two teams are renowned for being very classy, so going into finals day we were a bit nervous. But we knew we just had to stick to our game plan and just believe in ourselves and give it everything.
“Beating Hamilton Girls’ for the first time ever gave us a lot of confidence going into the final and we left it all out on the paddock in that last game and it was just awesome to achieve our goal at the end.”
The final itself was on tenterhooks at 2-2 at halftime. “It was a tough grind in the first half, but come the second half we realised that we could actually win this and we just had to give it everything and that managed to be enough.”
On day one Columba had beaten Morrinsville High School 10-1 and Trident High School 9-1, before losing 2-1 to St Kent’s.
“We weren’t too disheartened by that loss as we knew there was more we could have given in that game, and we were just really happy to get into the top eight anyway.”
On day two they beat Whangarei Girls’ High School 7-4, Mount Albert Grammar School 7-3 and drew with Westlake Girls’ High School 5-5.
“The draw was probably our worst game of the tournament but we used that as motivation for the games that followed.”
Columba had qualified for nationals back in Summer Tournament Week in March, beating Dunedin rivals St Hilda’s Collegiate 7-1 in the South Island final.
Being named girls tournament MVP was a surprise. “That was such a crazy experience, hearing my name being called out and I was not expecting it!”
McKayler, Meg Sycamore and Maia Joseph made the girls tournament selection of 20 players.
Hamilton Boys’ High School won the boys competition and Howick College annexed the mixed title.
McKayler paid tribute to coach Dayna Turnbull, who is also the New Zealand open women’s captain.
“She has been involved in the team for a few years now and her enthusiasm and experience as a coach and player at the highest level is immense.
“There are still lots of players coming back next year and just having Dayna as the coach you just know they will give it their all in their title defence next year.”
McKayler herself made her full New Zealand debut earlier this year, in the trans-Tasman series in Rotorua.
“That was very surreal, I was just honoured to play against the Australian side who are the world’s best,” said McKayler who plays in the middle playmaking position for Columba and link for New Zealand.
As well as Columba coach Dayna Turnbull, Olivia O’Neill from St Hilda’s Collegiate was also in the team that played Australia, who beat New Zealand 2-0 in the three-match series (bad weather cancelling the last match).
McKayler, Olivia and Columba College teammate – and New Zealand U18 team MVP - Meg Sycamore later went to Malaysia with the New Zealand U18 team that finished second to Australia at the U18 World Cup.
“The culture, the heat and playing against all the other teams in Malaysia was so different to anything I had experienced before. In the final it was a draw at halftime but unfortunately in the second half they ran the legs off us.”
The next big tournament for McKayler and many of the Otago players is the U21 nationals in March. She also plans to start university in Dunedin in 2019.
The Columba College NZSS winning touch team was: McKayler Moore (captain), Meg Sycamore, Maia Joseph, Claudia Carruthers, Brylee More, Olivia Fowler, Jess Cowie, Liv Preston, Madi Williams, Kate Macbeth, Riley Piebenga, Abby Anderson, Meg Breen, Grace Macbeth, Charlotte Hayes, Chelsea Smith.
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