Wellington College one of several schools vying for national underwater hockey honours

The Wellington College Senior A team that were runners-up at the 2019 Central Zone Tournament.

This coming September’s Senior Boys NZSS Underwater Hockey tournament at Kilbirnie Pool shapes as one of the most competitive national secondary school sports titles to be contested this year.

Any one of about 10 teams, from the top of the South Island to the top of the North Island, could win, including the leading Wellington schools who filled four of the top five spots at this past weekend’s Central Regional Tournament that was held at the same venue.

Nelson College won both the Junior and Senior Boys titles, with Wellington College teams runners-up in both divisions.

Wellington College Senior A captain Will Durkin praised Nelson College who were something of an unknown to the Wellington teams heading into the tournament.

“We had no idea what they would they were going to be like,” said Will, “ most of us local teams had already played each other multiple times and we all had a pretty good idea of what to expect from most of the teams and the players to look out for.”

“But they put up a good fight, having no previous knowledge themselves of our teams. The final against them was a good game from both sides of the pool.”

Nelson beat Wellington College 4-2 in the Senior Boys final, after coming back from an early 0-1 deficit. One of Nelson’s goals was a penalty shot, which means everyone gets out of the water except for two attackers and one defender and they look to score that way.

Wellington College beat Hutt International Boys’ School in one semi-final and Nelson College beat St Pat’s Town in the other.

Wellington College and HIBS have a healthy local rivalry.

“We have played them several times recently and our results have gone both ways. We would win once, they would win next and then we would win again.”

The local schools play for the Solomon Shield during the regular season, a challenge shield that the holders put up in every game.

“HIBS came into this season with the shield, and then we took it off them and held it for a few weeks, and then literally last week just before the Central Tournament they won it back off us.”

Scots College and St Pat’s Town are also two strong schools in Wellington.

“St Pat’s ended up beating HIBS in the third and fourth playoff and won the bronze medal.”

It’s a similar story in the Northern Zone, where several Bay of Plenty and Auckland schools are all similarly ranked.

Howick College won last weekend’s Northern Zone Tournament, while Tauranga Boys’ College are the defending NZSS Junior Boys and Senior Boys champions, having also won the Senior title in 2017 for the first time.

Wellington College last won the nationals in 2011, but have a successful record, winning the NZSS Senior Boys title 10 times in 14 years between 1998-2001 and again in 2005, 2006 and 2011.

Other Wellington schools to annex the Senior Boys NZSS title include Wellington High School (1985, 1987), HIBS (2003, 2004, 2007) and Scots College (2010, 2012, 2013).

Will spent three years in the Wellington College Junior A team, part of a team that finished second in the Junior nationals in his year 10, but was injured and didn’t play in last year’s Senior nationals as Wellington College came fourth.

Wellington College won the NZSS Swimming title last year, but only a couple of players in the current Senior A underwater hockey squad were also in the swim team last year. Similarly, few players play water polo.

The sport is similar to ice hockey, except underwater and along the bottom of the pool as its name suggests. Games are nine or 10 minute halves, with six players from each team in the water at once.

How do players communicate during games?

“It comes down to the tactics of the game,” explained Will. “That is where it is really important to know where people are in the water. You need to do your personal job and need to trust your teammates that they will too when you are at the bottom of the pool.”

The six players set up in formations. “At Wellington College we play a 2-3-1 formation, which is two forwards, and two wings and a centre in the middle line and then a goalie. But the goalie isn’t like a football or outdoor goalie, they are more like a centre back in football or fullback in rugby.”

The formations change. “When I was trialling for the New Zealand U18 team last year we were being taught to play a different formation, which meant I had to adjust accordingly.”

Plus at any one time only some of the players are actually below water in the thick of the action, owing to players having to come up for air and breath through their snorkels.

“You really want to be on the bottom as much as you can. You can be the best player in a team but you can’t do anything if you are on the surface.”

Wellington College train as a team on Sundays and plays the College Sport Wellington competition on Tuesday nights.

The Wellington College Senior A and Junior A teams that finished runner-up at the Central Regional Tournament are:

Senior A:

Will Durkin, Adam Muir, Ben Stirling, Daniel Markland. Lewie Harland, Caelum de Vos, Tom Adams. Ollie Lau Young. Jacob Rhodes

Junior A:

Mathieu Ewers, Freddie Thorpe, Nicholas Jones, Krishin Cox, Sam Falloon, Tim Stirling. Jed McLachlan. Daniel Ewers, Ben Kuggeleijn, Luke Rhodes, Max Coram