Southland's top young track and field athletes will be looking to back up their excellent results from last year at the national secondary school athletics championships, beginning in Dunedin on Friday.
Southland competitors shone at last year's championships in Wellington, with Southland Girls' High's Greer Alsop capturing gold in both the senior girls' triple jump and long jump. St Peter's College's Tori Peeters also starred, winning gold in the senior girls' javelin with a 41.35m throw.
Alsop and Peeters, who were named joint winners of the Southland Athlete of the Year title this year, again shape as two of the region's strongest prospects. Both year 13 students will be targeting memorable performances in their last visit to the national secondary school championships.
Alsop, who will head to Washington State University on a full scholarship next August, will be the athlete to beat in the triple jump, having won the past two senior girls' titles. She will also rate her chances of defending her long jump title from last year.
At the Oceania championships in Cairns in June, Alsop showed her vast potential with a second placing in the women's open triple jump and first place efforts in the under-20 women's triple jump and long jump.
Those results followed on from an impressive showing at the New Zealand track and field championships in March when she won the under-20 long jump and was second in both the senior and under-20 triple jump.
Alsop will face stiff competition in the triple jump from Paige Harwood (Kings College in Auckland) and Amy Robinson (Tauranga Girls'), who have produced superior performances. Alsop has the knack of pulling out big jumps when its counts, so will be confident of doing well.
She will also be attempting to beat the senior girls' record of 12.13m in the triple jump - a distance she bettered two years ago, but the 2.1m/sec following wind was a little over the 2m/sec allowable for record purposes.
Alsop will line up against Gore High's Jade Graham, who was the junior girls' triple jump champion and record-breaker at the New Zealand track and field championships in March.
Peeters has been in stellar form in 2012 in the javelin, winning gold in the women's under-20 event at the Oceania Championships in Cairns and gold in the open women's javelin. She also picked up a silver medal at the Australian Junior Athletics Championships.
She will start as firm favourite in the senior girls' javelin, but will have to watch out for the threat of talented youngster Laura Overton, from Southland Girls' High, who is stepping up to the senior ranks and is just behind Peeters in the national rankings.
Overton announced herself to the athletics fraternity with a second place effort in the under-17 girls' section of the New Zealand track and field championships in Auckland in March - missing out on gold by just 1cm.
Blue Mountain College's Gavin Stark is a good chance to medal in the senior boys' 100m after picking up bronze last year in his first season up from the junior ranks. He could also be a surprise package in the 300m hurdles, an event he has recently taken up.
Like Stark, James Hargest College's Rebecca Peterson is new to the 300m hurdles discipline, but has the ability to force her way up into a top placing and is also a realistic contender in the senior girls' 100m.
James Hargest's Ethan Campbell is another athlete to keep an eye on in the senior boys' 400m after some pleasing recent times.
In the steeplechase, James Hargest's Ffion Muhl has plenty of promise, though the 15-year-old junior will have to compete against older and more experienced girls with the event open to all ages.
Southland Boys' Jordan Rackham will be also be looking to shine in the boys' steeplechase. He is the M17 bronze medallist from the last New Zealand championships and his national ranking suggests he could be a handful.
Other names to watch out for include year 9 Verdon College student Liam Cullen in the 3km road race, and Southland Girls' Emma Hopcroft in the junior girls' sprints and long jump and triple jump.
Southland Boys' Michael Mitchell has made steady progress this season and has the chance of making the senior boys' javelin final.
Central Southland College's Regan Wilson is a good prospect in the junior boys' triple jump - an event he won at the South Island school championships earlier this year. Gore High's Sean Pay and James Hargest's Jared Greig are the best Southland chances in the senior boys' triple jump and are capable of a high placing if they can hit top form.
Arthur Smith and Jack Beaumont will fly the flag for Northern Southland College. Smith is entered in the junior boys' high, long and triple jump disciplines and is an athlete of immense potential. Beaumount could be a dark horse in the junior boys' 3000m if he can step up on the day.
There will be an added incentive for athletes this weekend with places in the New Zealand team for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney in mid-January up for grabs. New Zealand will send 30 athletes, aged either 16 or 17, to the festival, with selection based on results in Dunedin.
- © Fairfax NZ News