Whangarei Girls’ High School were thrilled to put their name on a New Zealand Secondary Schools trophy this past weekend, winning their maiden NZSS Squash Championships title in Tauranga.
Whangarei GHS were top seeds heading into the tournament, but they had to be at their best to see off the other leading schools, who included recent champions Palmerston North Girls’ High School (third), Havelock North High School and Westlake Girls’ High School.
Whangarei GHS beat Westlake Girls’ High School in their semi-final tie on Saturday and returned on Sunday to defeat Havelock North Girls’ High School in the final.
It was a team tournament that saw schools play the best of five singles games against each other per tie, with the respective seeded players facing off against each other, i.e. fifth versus fifth and first versus first.
Whangarei captain and the team’s second seed Pippa Saunders said their strength and the key to victory was in their depth of players, having strong players all the way through the squad.
“In past years we have had really strong players, but the depth dropped away a bit at the bottom, but this year we had a team full of B graders so our bottom players won all their games comfortably,” said Pippa.
“It is pretty hard to get a team full of top players, so having that consistency is the key to winning this event,”
The team ranged in age from years 9 to 13, with three year 9 players in the squad including third seed Chelsea Traill who was named in the NZ Junior Girls team after the tournament. Top seed Shea Ferguson is year 11.
Whangarei came second in 2014 and 2015 and finished fifth last year.
Pippa said there was extra expectation on the team heading into the weekend as top seeds.
“We were a bit nervous going into it, being top seeds we were almost supposed to win but we knew it was going to close as the other high ranked schools were really strong as well.”
Whangarei started the tournament with a bye, before beating 17th seeds Papamoa College 5-0, then ninth seeds Tauranga Girls’ College 4-1 before the semi-final and final wins.
“We then won our semi-final 5-0, but we knew our final as going to be really close. Chelsea was up first and we knew that she needed to win because our top player Shea had a tough game and it was going to be hard for her to win. So if Chelsea had lost it would have come down to the last player, who was actually myself.”
Chelsea won her match in three sets against Rakairoa Joyce. Next, Amy Brown won the battle of the fifth seeds 3 sets to 1 to put Whangarei up 2-0. Havelock North’s Jena Gregory beat Shea in three sets to make it 2-1 to Whangarei.
Then the number four players took to the court with the tie still very much alive. Ruby Collins kept to her game plan and won 3-1, sealing the tie for Whangarei Girls’ High School.
The dead rubber match saw Havelock North's Jasmine Roydhouse-Ross beat Pippa 3-0. “I was really relieved when Ruby won her match in four sets – I think I just celebrated a bit too early and lost my focus in my game.”
Pippa said the format of the tournament makes for plenty of excitement. “It is very tense, you are clapping after each point and it is very nerve-wracking at times.”
What happens now? ”We all play in the Northland development squad, and coach Paul Ormsby comes up from Auckland every week. We all play individually in the Northland tournaments but we come together soon for the junior nationals for Northland in individual and team events.”
Pippa said that for herself and Shea, squash is their sole sport but others in the team also play other sports, such as Chelsea who plays both cricket and hockey.
The NZSS Squash Championships attracted some 20 girls schools and 32 boys schools and was played over three days across three different squash clubs in Tauranga.
Mount Albert Grammar School defeated hometown school Tauranga Boys’ College 3-1 in the boys final.
The winning NZSS Whangarei Girls’ High School team was (seeding in brackets):
Shea Ferguson (1), Pippa Saunders (2), Chelsea Traill (3), Ruby Collins (4), Amy Brown (5), Olivia Rhodes (6), Jordyn Chapman (7). Coach: Delwyn Houlihan. Manager: Justine Collins
NZSS squash champions - last 20 years:
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