Above: Westlake Girls’ High School celebrates winning this year’s NZSS Senior Division 1 Volleyball title. Photos above and below by Julie Maree Photography. For more photos go here
A whirlwind few weeks has wound down for the Westlake Girls’ High School Senior volleyball team, but for tournament MVP Tamara Otene there’s much more to look forward to later this year.
Fresh from helping her side win the Auckland Championship followed by their maiden NZSS Senior Division 1 title in Palmerston North at the end of Summer Tournament Week, Tamara is now turning her attention to preparing for the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires in beach volleyball.
Prior to indoor Nationals, the year 12 student travelled to Canberra to compete in the U19 Oceania Youth Qualifiers, alongside the best youth beach volleyballers in Australia and the region. There she and her partner Maya Dickson (New Plymouth Girls’ High School) beat the Australian pair twice to book their spot at the Youth Olympics in October.
This won’t be the first time she has represented New Zealand. In late 2017 Tamara competed in the Junior World Championship in badminton. "Worlds was an awesome experience. That's how I got used to the people watching and the big crowds,” she said. “I aspire to go to the Olympics one day – just like all other athletes.”
“The thing I love the most about beach volleyball is that you are 50 percent of the game and I love the wide variety of shots that you can play,” Tamara added.
She was part of plenty of winners at the recent NZSS Championships. Westlake Girls’ High School won the national title for the first time in the school’s history without dropping a set.
Coach John Howard said the core of the winning team was the Westlake side that had won the NISS Junior title at the end of 2016, which Tamara was also the MVP of.
“Tamara is a pretty exceptional athlete,” said Howard. “At one stage she was playing three international sports - beach volleyball, indoor volleyball and badminton.”
As well as Tamara, Zara Pocock made the starting seven tournament team. Zara was also tournament MVP at the Auckland Championships that Westlake won earlier in March.
The Westlake Girls’ High School NZSS Division 1 winning squad was: Sara McCarthy (C), Zara Pocock, Katie Sadlier, Elizabeth Howard, Tamara Otene, Emme Shearer Rachael Webster, Kaia Pola, Juliette Vukets, Jess Moors, Romy Olivier, Emma Schulte, John Howard (Coach), George Koria (Assistant Coach), Debbie Wareham (Manager).
Howard said that planning is a key reason for the team having gone through Nationals unbeaten without dropping a set.
“We spend a lot of time preparing and we try to avoid surprises as much as we can. We never go into a game expecting to win 3-0 we just want to win even if it is a five-setter,” said Howard.
“I think we only lost four sets throughout the season, and you have to tell the girls that we are going to lose sets so don’t treat it as a big deal if we do.”
Westlake beat top Bay of Plenty’s Otumoetai College in the final (25-23), (25-17), (25-21).
They beat Wellington’s St Mary’s College in their quarter-final (25-15, 25-17, 25-18) and Auckland’s Aorere College (25-21, 25-18, 25-14) in their semi-final.
“We had beaten Aorere 3-1 in the final of the Auckland Championships, and they are a really strong defensive team. They have got two NZ reps in there and a good wise old coach who I used to play against so we are always really nervous against them.
“But the good thing there was that we had played them a couple of times previously this season so we knew them a bit better.”
Their quarter-final was more nerve-wracking.
“St Mary’s put us out the year before in the quarter-finals. We had a five-setter against them and lost and we finished fifth.”
“They had pretty much the same team, so we had a huge preparation for that game, with some video analysis and a lot of talk about what they do and how we could combat it.”
“Unfortunately for them, their key player ended up injuring her hand and that put them on the back foot, but we beat them quite well. Those two games against St Mary’s and Aorere were probably our best two games of the tournament.”
Beaten finalists Otumoetai College beat Rangitoto College in their semi-final (25-20, 25-14, 25-17).
Rangitoto were to finish third, while Orewa College finished sixth, putting three North Harbour schools in the top six.
“Rangitoto had their ups and downs throughout the season, but they played well at nationals and it was really good to see another North Harbour finish well was great. They didn’t play well in their semi-final loss to Otumoetai but they came back to beat Aorere [3-2] in the third placed game and Aorere had been beating them all year.”
Last year’s champions Trident High School finished 10th.
North Harbour schools also finished second and third in the Boys Division 1 tournament, Rangitoto College were runners-up to Bay of Plenty’s Western Heights High School, while Orewa College were third.
There were 171 teams competing at the 50th Secondary Schools Volleyball Championships in Palmerston North.
The Girls Tournament team was:
Libero - Zara Pocock (Westlake Girls’ High School)
Middle - Jenna Thorne (Otago Girls’ High School)
Middle - Paige Mellsop (Otumoetai College)
Outside Hitter - Meletia Leilua (Aorere College)
Outside Hitter - Tamara Otere (Westlake Girls’ High School)
Opposite - Layla Sae (St Peter's College)
Setter - Phoenix Paniora (Trident High School)
MVP - Tamara Otene (Westlake Girls’ High School)
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