New Zealand is the leading underwater hockey country in the world, having recently annexed three of the four divisions at the World Age Group Underwater Hockey Championships in England – the U19 Men’s and the U19 and U24 Women’s titles.
With three U19 Men’s team world champion players in their squad, Tauranga Boys’ College are now the three-time New Zealand Secondary Schools Senior Open champions, retaining the title at Kilbirnie Pool in Wellington this past weekend.
Unlike the two previous years, it wasn’t all calm waters heading into this year’s championships, as captain Thomas Holdom explained.
“In the past two years that we had won the NZSS tournament we had also taken out the North Island qualifiers, but we came second this year to Howick College,” Thomas told College Sport Media.
“So this added more pressure on the team to perform this weekend. We had a bit of a rough start, but the team kept on improving and we finished with our best game.”
Thomas Holdom (year 12), Aidan Heath (year 12) and Zac Howe (year 13) were the three New Zealand U19 players in Tauranga’s winning team.
Tauranga beat Glendowie College 2-1 in the final, who featured one New Zealand player, after winning all their previous games over the tournament that included wins over Glendowie (2-0), Mahurangi College (8-0), Hutt International Boys’ School (4-1), Nelson College (4-1) and Howick College (3-1).
The final against Glendowie College was a repeat of the 2018 decider and was a hard-fought affair.
Tauranga led 1-0 at halftime. “We got a goal about five minutes in, after an early disallowed goal. It then stalemated for the rest of the first half, and then early in the second half we scored a second goal to go 2-0 up.”
The second half remained on tenterhooks. “With 1 minute and 45 seconds to go they put a goal on us. So I told the team that we are going to go and put it up in their half and not let it out and that is exactly what we did until fulltime.”
Tauranga also played the final two minutes a player down, with a player sin-binned for a free-arming offence.
There are six players in the pool at any one time, with a revolving four-player substitutes bench, so to lose a player for two minutes is potentially a big blow.
Tauranga’s winning 10-player team comprised three year 11 players, five year 12s and two year 13s.
The two year 13s, Zac Howe and James Robinson, are the two players in the squad that have won the NZSS title three years in a row, while captain Thomas previously won the Junior NZSS title in 2016 an 2017, before winning the senior title these past two years.
Tauranga’s juniors didn’t qualify this year for nationals, with a team made up of mostly new players they have been in rebuilding mode in 2019.
Unlike in bigger regions such as Wellington, there is no school underwater hockey competition in the Bay of Plenty, so Tauranga’s players play club underwater hockey.
“All of the Tauranga Boys’ College players play for the Tauranga club as well. We have two team trainings a week and one club night a week.
“The only time we really get to play other schools is at these big tournaments, or occasionally Trident High School comes over from Whakatane to our club night.”
Tauranga Boys’ College has a strong water sports culture, as well as land-based pursuits, but generally the underwater hockey players stick to their sport.
“I used to play badminton and football, but underwater hockey has absorbed all of my time now.”
For good reason too, Thomas and eight other players that were playing in the NZSS tournament last week for Tauranga and other schools recently spent three weeks in August at the Junior World Championships in Sheffield, England.
“We played 16 games over 10 games and we won all of our games. We beat Great Britain 8-2 in our final and we beat Spain 3-2 in our semi-final.”
“We had a big crowd of both local UK supporters and New Zealand supporters with three other teams involved.”
Coming up next are the national club championships in Wellington in early October, followed by the inter-zone U18 tournament in Auckland at the end of November.
Meanwhile, South Island champions Nelson School for Girls beat Otumoetai College in the Senior Girls NZSS final, Nelson College beat Glendowie College in a sudden death Junior Boys final and Marsden Collegiate School defeated Epsom Girls’ Grammar School in the Junior Girls decider.
Tauranga Boys’ College 2019 Senior Boys NZSS Underwater Hockey team:
Aidan Heath (year 12, NZU19 Representative)
Caleb Cooper (year 12)
Carter Ormsby (year 11)
Christopher Maine (year 12)
Daniel Maine (year 12)
James Robinson (year 13)
Parker Davis (year 11)
Theo Lafont (year 11)
Thomas Holdom (year 12, Captain, NZU19 Representative)
Zac Howe (year 13, Vice-Captain, NZU19 Representative)
Ben Tortoiseshell (year 11, injured and didn’t play this year)
Kenrick Knowlson (Coach)
Sarah Tortoiseshell (Manager)