Marsden Junior underwater hockey win National Title

Marsden Junior UWH on top at the bottom of the pool

Being two players short of a ‘full’ team hasn’t stopped Samuel Marsden Collegiate School winning the New Zealand Secondary School Junior Girls Underwater Hockey title.

There are typically 10 players in an underwater hockey team, with six in the water at any one time and four used as rolling substitutes throughout the demanding 20-minute games.  As the name of the sport implies, it involves long periods swimming underwater scrambling to push a puck along the bottom of the pool.

Marsden’s junior team this year consisted of just six secondary school aged players, all year 10 students, with the other two spots luckily filled by year 8 players.

This past weekend, this team beat the best schools in the country to become the first Wellington school to win the national junior girls title for 16 years, at the tournament held at the Wellington Regional Aquatic Centre.

Throughout the tournament Marsden beat Wellington East Girls’ College #2 (18-0),   Nelson College for Girls (8-0), Rotorua’s John Paul College twice (4-1 and 5-1), North Harbour’s Mahurangi College (4-1) and finally Auckland’s Epsom Girls’ Grammar School (3-1).

This win followed their victory at the Central Zone qualifying tournament earlier in the term. In that tournament their results were equally striking – winning all six games by a combined score of 75-0 and beating Nelson College for Girls (9-0) and Hutt Valley High School (6-0) in the semi-final and final respectively.

Last year, the team had been fifth at the qualifying tournament to qualify for the NZSS tournament for the first time, where they came seventh, so they have had a meteoric rise in 2019.

What is the secret to their success?

“A whole lot of enthusiasm,” said team manager Natasha Kenyon. “The girls really love this sport. They have become great friends and they really enjoy playing together and it shows in their results.”

Manager Natasha also said they don’t shirk hard work. “There is something gritty when you turn up at 7.00am on a Sunday morning because that is the only time they can get pool time at WRAC in Kilbirnie and don’t complain!”

Their success didn’t happen overnight. “We lost for two years – we lost and we lost and we lost, and if we ever scored a goal we were in raptures!”

Plus dedicated and positive coaching.

“Last year when this team started we had two great coaches, Abigail Burdon and James Keating, who have developed this team. They know UWH inside and out, and they know how to bring the best out in them and they have turned them into a team.  In turn the players want to do well for their coaches and for their team-mates.”

“They have trained the team in fitness and skills two to three times a week, often working them together with the Marsden seniors.”

Of note, the Marsden seniors this year have played as a composite team with players from other schools to make up enough numbers, and thus weren’t eligible for the NZSS tournament.

The school has also been hugely supportive. One of Marsden’s sport coordinators, Kathrynn Petrie, is a former underwater hockey player.

Marsden’s junior team has been playing locally at WRAC on Friday nights and they won the Wellington competition with a record of 16 wins and one draw in 17 games played with a combined score of 227-3. They beat Hutt Valley High School 12-0 in the final.

On Queen’s Birthday weekend the team travelled to Rotorua for a tournament under the banner of the UWH Club Knights of Mcginley (KOM) and finished fourth against a group of senior teams.

Following this weekend’s nationals, three Marsden players were selected in the 10-player tournament team – Mila Smith, Jade Stapleton and Tiffany Kenyon.  Mila Smith was the team MVP.

Underwater hockey is a fast-growing sport and New Zealand’s four teams recently won three gold medals and a bronze at the Age Group World Championships in England. The NZ U19 Men’s and the U19 and U24 Women’s all won their tournaments.

The Marsden Junior Girls underwater hockey team is:

Mila Smith (captain), Holly Dixon (Vice captain), Emma Egley, Jade Stapleton, Amy Harvey-Green, Tiffany Kenyon, Catherine Rombel, Charlotte Cinque

Watch the Junior Girls final here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_WXOEsz9Ps&t=23s
Starts at 3:06 minutes for game 119. Marsden in white caps.