They ventured into the unknown but exceeded all expectations by bringing home some table tennis bling.
That was the super result for the nine-strong Southland squad, which enjoyed a fine return to the New Zealand junior table tennis championships in Palmerston North last week.
The medal-winning stars from the tough, five-day event were Holly Wu, Laura Geraghty and Finn Holden.
Wu became a rare Southland double medal winner from a national junior championship, snaring silver in the girls' under-13 doubles for making the final. She also won silver with Geraghty in the under-15 girls teams competition for Southland, which won four of its five matches in round-robin play before losing to Auckland in the final.
The Southland girls were boosted by picking up outstanding Wellington youngster Hui-Ling Vong as their draft player. Vong was unbeaten in the under-15 teams event and then went on to win the under-13 girls singles title in the individual championship.
Holden, who at 11 was the youngest of the Southland contingent, made his national championship debut a memorable one by winning silver as the draft player for Wellington in the boys under-13 B grade teams event.
A pumped Holden produced one of the matches of the grade when he upset a much-higher-ranked Counties player in his team's final fixture to tie up the contest at three-all. His Wellington No 1 team-mate then held his nerve to win a thrilling five-set singles contest for a 4-3 teams victory and a second-place finish.
Holden also combined with Wu to make the semifinals of the under-13 mixed doubles before losing to the top seeds and eventual winners.
Southland manager-coach Daryl Holden said winning three medals was a memorable bonus but it was not the only highlight.
"I was just as thrilled to see all our players show, at various times throughout the teams and individual events, that they can compete at this level," Holden said.
"We didn't really know how they would go because it was the first time Southland had sent a significant squad to a national junior championship for well over a decade. The really exciting thing is that I know we have many other juniors, playing in our schools competitions, who would also not look out of place at this level.
"The aim now must be to try and get even more players to next year's championships, which are likely to be held in Christchurch."
The immediate focus for the Southland youngsters, and their senior team-mates, will be the South Island individual championships at Stadium Southland on August 23-24.
That tournament will be one of the biggest in Invercargill for years.
- The Southland Times