It was a full-on week for Westlake Boys Premier Volleyball team, who partook in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Championship tournament held in Palmerston North. Going in as 14th seed after finishing third in the North Harbour competition, the team knew that they would have to play their best volleyball to advance to the later stages of the tournament.
Having started with two comfortable 3-0 wins over Bethlehem College and Palmerston North Boys’ High School on Monday, Westlake played Trident High School to decide who would top the pool. After a slow start the boys found themselves 2-0 down but managed to find form in time to win the next two sets, sending the match to a fifth set. However, the third seeded Trident team showed their class going up 15-11 to win the fifth set and match.
The loss to Trident High School meant that Westlake’s first crossover pool match would be against first seeds and hot favourites Western Heights High School, who beat last years’ Westlake team in the national semi-final. In an extremely intense game Westlake were 2-1 down with Western Heights on two match points in the fourth set. However, Westlake fought strongly and managed to save both points and win the set 27-25, sending the match to a decider fifth set once again. Rolling from the comeback win, Westlake exploded out of the gates in the fifth, shooting to a 9-3 lead. Every point of this early lead was eventually needed as Western Heights came storming back, but the team managed to hold on for a gutsy 16-14 win after an ace from Callum George.
On Wednesday the crossover pool games continued against local rivals Rangitoto College who had beaten Westlake the last two matches the team faced each other. Westlake played clinically to go up 2-0, but with their tournament on the line the Rangitoto team rallied to set up yet another thrilling five set match. It was the Westlake team that managed to reset mentally, cruising to victory in the fifth set. After a 3-0 win over Otago Boys High School that evening, Westlake advanced to the quarter-finals, where they would face Tauranga Boys’ College.
Tauranga Boys, an extremely talented and well-drilled side stunned Westlake by opening up a 17-6 lead at the start of the match. Their form continued building up to a 2-1 lead and despite being down in such an important match, Westlake knew that they had the skill and mental toughness to grind it out and work their way back in the match. As the team had already done multiple times earlier that week, they did just that. The 3-2 comeback win booked Westlake a semi-final spot against Bay of Plenty giants Otumoetai College. In the semi everything seemed to go Westlake’s way, and it seemed as if the team had simply figured out how to win games and step up in pressure situations, resulting in a great 3-0 win.
The final was played against Manurewa High School, Auckland Championship winners (Westlake finished third) and an in-form team that had only lost one game all season. Being the clear underdogs and with the majority of the crowd pitted against Westlake, the boys embraced their position and used it to trigger a game of fearlessness, relentlessness and pure grit. These key features enabled Westlake to maintained consistency, to force Manurewa into making nervous errors and to grind out any tough situation they found themselves in. Westlake did not have the power, the crowd or the raw talent, but they had the wit, resilience and mental strength to pull off a 3-0 win, with all sets being very closely contested.
The victory meant that Westlake were national champions for the third time in the school’s history and for the first time in five long years. Congratulations to the team and coaches, Messrs Mckerrow and Howard and a special congratulations to Ashton Howard for making the tournament team and captain Greg Vukets who was named MVP of the tournament.