Manawatu's age-group badminton teams have been thrown in with the best at the North Island inter-association championships at Arena Manawatu this week.
It is the first time Manawatu have been in division one, giving them the chance to test their skills against the country's best age-group players.
Manawatu under-17 coach Rose Wapp said the games this week were tough, but there was no substitute for difficult competition.
"We got the chance to play against teams like Auckland and North Harbour who have paid coaches and great systems in place," she said.
"Although we lost to those teams, our players competed until the last point and pushed some of their top players."
Manawatu's under-17 team beat Counties 15-1 on Sunday, with the division-one team beating Bay of Plenty 11-5 on Monday before losing to top team, Auckland, 16-0.
Wapp said although the teams had been competitive this year, they were looking forward to better results next year.
"For many of my players it's their first year in under-17s, so they'll be back next year too," she said.
"The fact that they are already playing this well means we should be in good shape for next year's competition."
Manawatu under-15s coach Mike Newton said his team was in the same boat.
"We were hoping for third or fourth place this year and had some tough matches against Auckland this morning," he said.
"Five of our 10 players will be back next year, so we should have a strong case for a medal."
Newton said his top two boys, Wei Lim and Junius Ong, were only 12 years old but strong enough to compete in the under-15 grade.
The under-15s will battle for seventh and eighth today after being pipped 9-7 by Wanganui yesterday.
The under-17s lost to Wellington North yesterday, leaving them to play off for seventh and eighth today against Bay of Plenty.
The North Island champs are the largest age-group competition in New Zealand, attracting about 300 players every year. The individual championships will start tomorrow.
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