The final act of the 2019 New Zealand secondary schools sporting calendar also promises to be one of the most hotly contested of the year when the country’s leading Girls, Boys and Mixed touch schools descend on Rotorua for the NZSS Nationals.
Last year Dunedin’s Columba College were crowned touch national champions for the first time – and were the first Otago school to win the title.
They return to this year’s touch nationals in buoyant mood and excited by the opportunity to defend their title, said this year’s captain and senior New Zealand player Meg Sycamore.
“It is exciting to be going away to defend our title,” she said. “We have been training hard and obviously the goal is to go and win again but we just want to go away and enjoy ourselves by playing as well as we can and then hopefully the results will take care of themselves.”
Meg said that there is a good balance of new and returning players heading to Rotorua.
“We have been training with a squad of about 18 girls but we are taking 15 away with us. Our team has been building since I was year 9 and we lost several girls at the end of last year.
“Our team for this year’s nationals comprises about seven year 13s and a group of year 12s and a couple of year 10s, as well as a couple of youngsters and these players will be the future of the game for our school.”
As well as training and playing in a competitive weekly module, some of Columba’s preparation involves playing games against nearby St Hilda’s Collegiate, who are the other Dunedin girls school going to nationals, and the South Otago High School Mixed team and John McGlashan College boys side, also both going.
“Playing against the Mixed and Boys teams really tests us, which is good for us,” affirmed Meg.
“We have also just started this new competition called the Otago Premier League (OPL) and this is club-based. This is beneficial for us individually as we are playing with different people and against each other in live game situations.”
Those in touch (and netball) circles need no introduction to Meg’s talent. In the space of a few months since the middle of this year, she played for the inaugural New Zealand Warriors women's touch team playing in the NRL Touch Premiership across New Zealand and Australia, the Senior NZ Women’s Touch team at the World Cup in Malaysia and in the South Island team that won the inaugural Premier Touch League competition.
Most recently, Meg’s Premier Touch League Te Waipounamu (South Island) side played against three North Island teams over four weekends in a new national series featuring the country’s leading players.
Te Waipounamu beat the Manukau Rovers in the final last weekend. Meg was the only school aged player that played in this decider, and she was one of three current schoolgirls in the wider squad along with Amelia Scully and Brooke McAlwee.
The team was co-captained by Columba College’s Sports Director and coach and New Zealand Women’s captain Dayna Turnbull and also included some old girls such as last year’s NZSS tournament winning captain McKayler Moore.
Meg was her team’s MVP from the series and voted the overall player of the series throughout the country after being named player of the finals round.
In May, Meg played in the Senior NZ team were beaten finalists by Australia at the Touch World Cup in Malaysia.
“That was so cool because it was my biggest tournament playing at the top level.
“It was also really great playing against different countries and against so many different styles of touch that were new to me.”
Meg was one of three current school players in the New Zealand team, along with Jaymie Kolose (Saint Kentigern College) and Princess Elliot (Mount Albert Grammar School).
The stint with the NRL Warriors team followed.
“There were games at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland and overseas. It was so cool playing in these big stadiums. Because the NRL games were played straight after, the field was shorter and narrower and it changed the style of the touch and that was cool.”
Living in Dunedin, Meg is no stranger to travel.
“I have had so much time off school this year. At the very least I have had 15 trips away for sport this year.”
Through it all, she has been the deputy head girl at Columba and knuckled down academically as she plans on starting a double law degree at Otago University in 2020. Meg was named best all-round student at the Columba College Prizegiving, receiving the highly sought after Fergus Ring.
Plus fitting in her other major sport – netball.
This year the centre/wing attack was a training partner for the Netball South Beko team and played for her school as much as possible.
“This year I couldn’t do as much for the netball team because of my touch commitments. I was also in the New Zealand U19 team but then I got injured before Nationals so I didn’t actually get to go to that, which was a setback.
“But now I have made the off-season training team for the BEKO team for next year.”
It was a bittersweet year for Columba College’s Senior A netball team, who won the Otago Secondary Schools competition for the first time in several years but fell to ninth in the SISS tournament, four spots shy of qualifying for nationals.
“Some could say we peaked too early for the SISS tournament.”
Columba was also beset by injuries, while the tournament in Nelson was moved outdoors after two days as the venue was double booked by the Zone 4 basketball qualifying tournament.
Meg has also played other sports to a high level, including athletics but she won’t be attending this weekend’s NZSS Track & Field meet in Wellington.
She also coached Columba College’s Junior A touch team in 2019 for the second straight year.
“They recently lost to St Hilda’s in the final of the Otago tournament but played really well.
Coaching is something that interests Meg in the future. “I have also been assisting coaching the Otago U18 Girls team with Dayna, which is really exciting for me.”
“I think coaching makes you see the game in a different way. When you go to play you are better for it.”
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