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“I think on the whole we're the underdogs. Any tournament we go to, whether in Christchurch, Wellington, Tauranga or Auckland, people assume we don't play good volleyball because we are from Southland”, says Central Southland College’s senior A boys and girls coach Alyssa Johnstone. “We on a bit of a mission to change that view.”
As recently as five years ago there was no volleyball programme to speak of at Central Southland College (CSC), the sport having gone into somewhat of a region-wide recess following the collapse of the Southland Stadium roof in 2009.
Fast-forward to today, and volleyball is flourishing at CSC and the school has its own New Zealand Youth men’s representative player, Sam Hodges, and South Island U20 representative and national U20 trialist Jamie Mcintyre. The senior boys team recently won Division II at the 2018 Mainland Secondary Schools tournament.
Johnstone charts the rise in popularity of volleyball at the Winton-based school, with a roll of 580 students:
“We have 80 players at the stadium on a Wednesday night, the vast majority of whom are coached by senior team players such as Sam and Jamie. This is the roll on effect of the junior players I coached back in 2014.
“I started with one team of eight year 12 and 13 boys, playing in the social grade at a high school gym in Invercargill. Needless to say, it wasn't at all what I was expecting, but they were doing their best with the lack of facilities available to them. In 2014, I coached all five school teams (two senior and three junior) during lunchtimes at school. The year 9 students I coached that year are now some of our year 13s in our senior teams.
“At the end of 2014 Invercargill hosted the Junior South Island Secondary Schools Volleyball Tournament at the newly completed stadium. The junior girls A team attended, which was their first exposure to serious volleyball.”
Volleyball at CSC kept growing, expanding to five teams in 2015 and then eight teams in 2016. That year, both the senior girls and senior boys attended the Mainland Volleyball Tournament in Christchurch for the first time.
Johnstone had been on maternity leave, so local Southland men’s player Sam Lavea stepped in to coach the boys team in 2016. The boys finished sixth in Division II and the girls third in Division III.
“Sadly, a few months later, Sam Lavea died in a car accident near Invercargill, which left the boys absolutely devastated.”
In 2017, CSC had seven teams running, with five of those being coached by senior players. The senior boys competed in the Mainland tournament again and came seventh. The senior girls traveled to the Satellite Nationals tournament in Christchurch.
At the end of last year, Sam and Jamie coached the junior boys team to 9th in Division II at the Junior South Island Secondary Schools Tournament. Senior girls players Kacee Green and Maggie Beggs coached the junior A girls to the same tournament to fifth 5th in Division III. Two junior girls were invited to trial for New Zealand in 2018 - Erin Forde and Omea Hall.
The players spent the summer school holidays training hard.
“At the end of 2017, we re-trialled the senior boys Team in order to train over the summer in preparation for Mainlands 2018. All of the junior boys who had played for Sam and Jamie made the training squad, which trained 8-10 hours a week all summer, with a week of over Christmas.
“Jamie and Sam ran most of the trainings themselves. Three of the junior boys from the year before went away with the team, filling the pivotal roles of setter, libero and middle. This was caused entirely by Sam and Jamie's diligence and leadership.”
At the recent Mainland tournament, the boys went undefeated and only lost two of 20 sets overall. They beat Shirley Boys B for a second time in the finals, winning Division II overall. They also went undefeated at the recent Southland Champs.
“Our programme has been boosted again by the recent announcement that Sam will be travelling to Iran this year with the New Zealand Youth Men’s Team.
“Sam and Jamie are a bit of a duo. They push each other to become better players. They love to have a laugh off the court, but they are all serious come game time. Sam has gained a lot of attention because of his skill and his height. Standing at 204cm, it's hard for him to fly under the radar in any scenario. Jamie is a year older, slightly more competitive, and very driven. He will naturally have to work harder than Sam since he's only 190cm tall, but this just increases his motivation to succeed.”
CSC won’t be attending the NZSS Nationals in Palmerston North this year, but it is a future goal.
“We would love to go to Nationals. It's been in the pipeline for a while now, but following their undefeated win at Mainlands, and the dedication to training they showed over the summer, it has become more and more evident that the boys are going somewhere. Parents have approved our initial proposal to attend Nationals in 2019, and that is what we are working towards at the moment. Many of our players are also training for the upcoming Inter Provincial Championships on Queens Birthday Weekend in June.”
There is still plenty of room for volleyball’s growth at CSC.
“Because we are a small school and there is an immense amount of athletic ability, students want to and many can do a range of sports.
“However, there has been a real shift in the senior boys team in the last six months. The junior boys Sam and Jamie coached last year to Junior South Islands now see volleyball as a sport they can pursue. And what was once a senior boys Team made up entirely of First XV players, is now about half rugby players and half volleyballers.
“With exposure to the competitive side of volleyball comes buy-in, interest and passion, and that's what we've seen as we've travelled with teams in the last few years,” concludes coach Johnstone.