The allure allure of a silver medal is wearing thin for Matt Symonds.
The Junior Black Stick and Wellington College midfielder has had enough practice at being a good loser.
Instead, he is hoping the Wellington under-18 team will get the chance to show they can be gracious winners at the national tournament in Palmerston North next week.
Symonds is from a generation of Wellington players that has been highly competitive at national tournaments without being able to win.
"I'm sick of finishing second," he said. "We were second at the under-21 [this year], second at the under-18 last year and second at the Hatch Cup [under-13]."
The Wellington boys' teams have usually performed well at under-18 level and have had five top-three finishes, but no wins, in the past decade.
The team came close last year, going down 2-1 to Auckland in the final. It had been Wellington's first final appearance since 2002, when they also lost to Auckland.
Symonds, 17, is among six Wellington players with previous experience at the tournament and is confident the team will be a force again. "I think we are pretty much on track."
Symonds, who with Harry Miskimmin is co-captain of the Wellington side, made the national under-18 team last year and took his game to another level this year, with selection in the training squad for the Junior Black Sticks, the national under-21 team.
The long term target for the under-21 players will be the 2013 junior World Cup.
Symonds is one of the youngest players in the squad, and made the team despite having an appendix removed just five weeks before the under-21 tournament.
"The last thing I remember asking the surgeon before they put me out was not to make too big a cut, because I needed to get back for hockey.
"They told me after a week that I couldn't do any more damage and I was back training after about two weeks."
His selection for the under-21 squad has also meant that Symonds, a year-13 pupil, has changed his plans for next year.
"I was looking at a gap year in England, but I will probably stay in Wellington now and focus on hockey and go to varsity here."
Miskimmin also made the national under-18 team last year, and along with Symonds will be an influential player next week.
"Matt has been playing very well and he and Harry have an influence on and off the field with their leadership," Wellington coach Brent Miskimmin said.
"We have had a couple of good results in the buildup and a couple of ordinary results, but that has enabled us to pinpoint some weaknesses and work on those.
"We are nursing a few injuries but I think we are a well balanced side," Miskimmin said.
"We can be pretty creative in midfield, with the likes of Harry, Matt and Bradley [Read] and have got some real wheels up front.
"We have got players with true goal scoring ability and if we make enough chances, we should put the goals away."
The key forwards will include Etienee de Haan and Simon Williams, while Jordan MacLachlan, who was originally unavailable for the tournament, has been called in as a replacement for Jack Pearson, who was sidelined by an ankle injury.
"Etienee was a comparatively late starter [in hockey], but has developed quickly and he has real speed," Brent Miskimmin said.
Harry Miskimmin is making his third appearance at the under- 18 tournament, while Symonds, MacLachlan, Aqshai Lala, Jainesh Patel and Ollie Logan have also played previously.
Wellington are in the same pool as Canterbury, Nelson, and Counties Manakau next week, with the clash against Canterbury likely to be the vital game.
"We are well capable of matching last year and then going one place better, especially if we can get all our injuries right," Brent Miskimmin said.
By contrast, the Wellington under-18 girls, who will be playing in Dunedin next week, have generally struggled at the national tournament.
They finished 10th last year and have not finished closer than fifth in the past decade.
They have a tough pool, which includes Auckland and Canterbury, but have had encouraging results in their buildup games and co-coach Elke Mertens has been happy with their progress.
"We are trying to play really simple hockey and be strong on the mental skills side," Mertens said. "The girls have worked really hard and I believe we have some genuine contenders for the New Zealand under-18 side."
Three members of the side - skipper Anna Forster, Nileesha Parbhu and Bridget Kiddle - also made the Wellington under-21 team this year, and Emma Brazil, Hannah Laity and Sophie Rider are others with previous experience at the under-18 tournament.
The Wellington Under-18 teams:
Boys: Aqshai Lala (Rongotai), Bradley Read (HIBS), Denzel Winter-Beard (Wellington College), Etienee de Haan (Upper Hutt College), Fletcher Phillips (HIBS), Harry Miskimmin (Scots), Jainesh Patel (Rongotai), Matt Symonds (Wellington College), Mitchell Carey (Hutt Valley), Ollie Logan (Wellington College), Rajan Dahya (Wellington College), Simon Williams (Wellington College) and university students Jaynesh Lala, Kent Horsley, Tim Greene and Jordan MacLachlan.
Girls: Jess Bond (Naenae), Emma Brazil (Wellington Girls'), Anna Forster (Naenae), Freya Hawes (Chilton), Bridget Kiddle (Marsden), Hannah Laity (university), Emma Leahy (Sacred Heart), Sophie Macadre (Queen Margaret), Harriet McFetridge (Onslow), Nileesha Parbhu (Wellington East), Neelum Patel (Wellington Girls'), Sophie Rider (Paraparaumu), Rebekah Smythe (St Oran's), Finella Sweeney (St Mary's), Teresa Warner (Sacred Heart), Emily Wood (St Oran's).
- © Fairfax NZ News
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