The Zespri AIMS Games 2022 end with a trifecta in rugby 7s

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The Zespri AIMS Games have come to an end as the sun sets over the Bay Oval. Photo/Jamie Troughton, Dscribe Media Services

It was the winning trifecta of a final at the Zespri AIMS Games 2022.

Te Puke, Tauranga and Rotorua middle schools all made it to the rugby sevens final at Blake Park.

As the rain poured down – just like on day one of the premier middle aged sports tournament of 2022 – the Rotorua girls played hard to win their match 12-10 against Tauranga.

It was just before the boys from Rotorua made ‘history’ in their first ever final match against Te Puke.

Before each final, players and supporters stopped and shared a moment of silence to honor the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The Rotorua Intermediate Girls won their competition at seven. Photo/Alan Gibson, Gibson Images
The Rotorua Intermediate Girls won their competition at seven. Photo/Alan Gibson, Gibson Images

Rotorua girls sevens coach Polly Playle said she felt “overwhelmed” after the victory.

“It’s so exciting. They’ve been working really hard over the past few weeks.”

Playle said the team had a few injuries, including a sore back and a bruise, but everyone got away with it.

“The last bit of excitement succeeded in shaking off the troubles.”

Playle, who was also celebrating her daughter Sachi’s first birthday, said she has seen the women’s sevens game grow over the past few years.

Some of the girls in the team won the Under-13 final in Queenstown last week and a few won their junior club’s rugby tournament the day before the AIMS final.

“The girls are on such a level right now.”

Rotorua Middle School Men's Rugby Sevens Team
The Rotorua Intermediate School men’s rugby 7s team ‘made history’ at this year’s AIMS Games. Photo / Alan Gibson, Gibson Pictures

Despite losing their final to Te Puke, Rotorua Intermediate Rugby Sevens coach Rhys Hohepa said the men’s team “made history” at this year’s AIMS Games.

“Rotorua has never placed so high,” Hohepa said.

“We made the top four, which was a feat, and then making the final was an even bigger feat.”

Hohepa said it was great to see Rotorua, Tauranga and Te Puke make the top three in the final.

“At the end of the day, we’re all here to represent this bay.”

It was “phenomenal” to come to the very end of the AIMS Games.

“It’s a celebration of sport.”

Te Puke Intermediate was the boys division champion.  Photo / Alan Gibson, Gibson Pictures
Te Puke Intermediate was the boys division champion. Photo / Alan Gibson, Gibson Pictures

It was an emotional win for Te Puke coach Aaron Sutherland, who led his team to victory at their first AIMS Games.

“We’re thrilled. Over the moon,” Sutherland said.

Watching Team Te Puke and Rotorua perform a haka after their match, Sutherland said he felt a huge sense of pride.

“They live for AIMS. They train hard all year to get here. They’re just a great group of boys.

“They train for those moments.”

Sutherland said he had modest goals in his first AIMS Games as a coach.

“I was hoping to get into the top eight. But when we got to the top four and then into the final, it was just amazing.”

Tournament Director Kelly Schischka said the feedback from the code coordinators has been phenomenal.

“Kids, parents and officials came up to them all week to tell them how amazing the tournament was and how much they enjoyed it,” Schischka said.

“As a tournament director, this is music to my ears.

“The competitors were awesome and I’m so glad they had the chance to be here and I’m so proud of what our team was able to deliver, still in the midst of a global pandemic. It really bodes well good for the future.”

Biting finish in squash finals

Vihan Chathury of Bethlehem College, 12.  Photo/Alan Gibson/Gibson Pictures
Vihan Chathury of Bethlehem College, 12. Photo/Alan Gibson/Gibson Pictures

It was a thrilling men’s squash final at the AIMS Games.

But in the end it was New Zealand’s number one under-13 squash player Vihan Chathury who took the win against Parua Bay School’s Zac Laing.

It was a decisive match between the two and it was a win that 12-year-old Chathury was looking for.

“It means a lot. The story of me and Zac is that we played twice. He won one and I won one.”

It was Laing who won the first round but Chathury fought back to win the last three rounds.

Chathury, from Bethlehem College, said he hopes to one day be ranked among the best in the world.

His parents Vishad and Hema Chathury said they were proud of their son for reaching the final.

Hema Chathury said Vihan was a “very laid back and relaxed” young man.

“He doesn’t get angry. We’re really proud that he’s doing well.”

Vishad Chathury said his son had been playing squash for four years.

He said the AIMS Games have reinforced and brought out children’s joy in play.

Brooke Valois and Mikayla Carroll of Tauranga Intermediate from Maungatapere School.  Photo / Alan Gibson, Gibson Pictures
Brooke Valois and Mikayla Carroll of Tauranga Intermediate from Maungatapere School. Photo / Alan Gibson, Gibson Pictures

Brooke Valois is ranked number one in New Zealand in her age group for squash. She represents Western Bay in tennis and “also loves cricket” and hockey.

Her mother said her daughter could pick up any racquet, bat or stick and be good at it.

That certainly seemed to be the case in her AIMS Games 2020 final against Maungatapere School’s Mikayla Carroll on Thursday.

The 12-year-old won all three sets and walked off the court with high-fives and congratulations from her parents and AIMS teammates.

But the number one New Zealand Under-13 champion was totally ‘cold’ about the whole thing.

Brooke’s mother, Ali Valois, said her daughter was “very laid back”.

“She’s not really stressing about anything.”

Ali Valois said Brooke has always been athletic and coordinated.

“I’ve never seen anyone that age with that hand-eye coordination.

“Even in dance when she was 2 years old, she was the first to jump.”

Ali Valois said Brooke played representative tennis for Western Bay of Plenty – a game she started playing when she was 4 years old.

The Tauranga teenager also played AIMS hockey and loves cricket too.

Ali Valois said she was grateful the AIMS Games had returned after a two-year hiatus.

“The Games give these kids the experience of being part of a major tournament.”

Brooke Valois said she started playing squash around the age of 9 because her older brothers did.

It was her first AIMS Games, she said. “It’s a really cool experience.”

She even shattered her goal, which was to “win”.

“One day I want to play squash in Egypt…that’s where the best players come from.”

Squash coordinator Ross McCurran said there were over 100 squash matches played during the week.

McCurran said that despite declining numbers at the 2019 Games, there was still plenty of spirit.

“It’s been competitive. The whole spirit has been great.”

He said some players literally threw their bodies over the line, as did New Zealand professional squash player Paul Coll.

“Paul Coll is known as Superman, he dives everywhere. Some of the kids imitated that.”

Tauranga Middle School Squash Coach and Te Puke Squash Club and District Coach Graeme Randolph said the AIMS Games were “key” to increasing children’s participation in the sport.

See double at AIMS

It was like seeing doubles in the AIMS Games table tennis finals when twins Ruby and Lou Reilly took to the court.

The 12-year-old Mount Maunganui Intermediate twins contested the bronze table tennis final with teammate Izzy Steele.

Mount Maunganui Intermediate Table Tennis Binoculars Ruby and Lou Reilly, 12 years old.  Photo / Zoe Hunter
Mount Maunganui Intermediate Table Tennis Binoculars Ruby and Lou Reilly, 12 years old. Photo / Zoe Hunter

There are 25 pairs of twins in the 23 sports codes at the AIMS Games this year.

The twins said they have a table tennis table at home to hone their skills and have just started to play well this year. So they decided to participate in their first AIMS Games.

Lou Reilly said it was “very exciting” to play in the bronze final.

“You could feel the pressure. It was a very tight game but Otumoetai deserved to win.”

Ruby Reilly, who won her singles round, said it was fun playing with her sister.

“It’s almost like we’re playing in sync. We train together at home and we know how we play.”

The twins said they enjoyed their AIMS Games experience and it helped them improve their game.

“It’s a lot more competitive. It was good that we got this far,” said Ruby Reilly.

The former champion is watching

As dozens of golfers prepared to play the 2022 AIMS Games, a former champion was watching.

Carson Van Asselt won the team golf competition on his debut at the 2015 AIMS Games with his brother Tyler.

Carson Van Asselt, 18, won the team golf competition on his debut at the 2015 AIMS Games. Photo/AIMS Games Media
Carson Van Asselt, 18, won the team golf competition on his debut at the 2015 AIMS Games. Photo/AIMS Games Media

This week, the 18-year-old apprentice professional cheered on this year’s AIMS athletes.

Van Asselt said the week-long middle-aged competition was a good start for the golf tournament.

“It puts you in a competitive environment and it’s a great way to meet people all over New Zealand.”

His advice to this year’s athletes was: “Make the most of the opportunity”.

“Learn as much as you can. Use it to your advantage.”

AIMS Games golf coordinator Mike Campbell said there were 85 18-hole golfers and 16 nine-hole golfers.

“For many of them, this is probably their first exposure to competitive golf. But they’re having fun first and foremost.”

Campbell said the Games were also good exposure as the athletes played at golf clubs in Omanu, Te Puke, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.

“It’s a great showcase of our Western Bay clubs.”

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