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Mackenzie courts career ambitions

Mackenzie Tait playing for Wairarapa College at the national secondary school championships. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

SQUASH

CHRIS COGDALE
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The Commonwealth Games are the long-term dream for rising Masterton squash star Mackenzie Tait.

The 14-year-old underlined her massive potential when she was named in the New Zealand Junior team for the second consecutive year, after some outstanding results at open junior events and the NZ Secondary School Championships.

Unfortunately for Tait, lightning struck twice, with the planned transtasman series with Australia, scheduled for Queensland, cancelled for the second year because of travel restrictions surrounding covid-19.

Earlier this month, Tait, who is a Year 10 student, led her promising young Wairarapa College team to a creditable 13th place in a strong field at the secondary school nationals.

That came aftertwo outstanding results in under-15 age group championships in July. At the North Island Junior Age Group Championships in New Plymouth Tait belied her sixth seeding and finished runner-up, and two weeks later she was seeded second for the South Island Age Group Championships in Christchurch and went on to win the title.

“It was my first time winning one of my age group titles, and for the North Island I was very surprised with my results because I had some very tough battles,” she said.

Mackenzie Tait shows off one of her many trophies.

Tait showed early promise when she started playing seven years ago at the Masterton Squash Club where her parents, Jono and Penny, both played.

“I have been around the club since I was little. I had quite good hand-eye co-ordination growing up and dad used to take me down and give me hits, and I used to play hockey and that kind of helped.”

Tait has steadily developed her game under the astute coaching of Evan Williams and Craig Denny and progressed to B1 Grade.

Her aim now is to make the step to A Grade, and she said learning to outlast her opponents will be key to that.

“I have been doing a lot of training just to have big, long rallies and practise hitting it to the back and make my opponent make the mistakes.”

As well as competing in the junior tournaments, Tait plays number one in the Masterton women’s interclub team, and for practice, takes the court against some of the better adult players in the club.

Her involvement with the Masterton club isn’t limited to playing; she also assists with coaching the younger juniors.

Tait is now preparing for the upcoming Wellington Junior Open. The six-strong girls’ team to represent the region at the National Junior Team Championships is named after the open and she is hoping that the tournament won’t fall victim to covid-19 restrictions, although she said her father has come up with a novel idea to assist with her training.

“I was just lucky that dad last lockdown made a homemade squash court in our shed – just a little miniature version, so he might have to bring it back out for this lockdown.

“We’ve also got a home gym at home, so I run on the treadmill and do some exercises.”

With four years left in the junior ranks, Tait said one of her goals is to make the New Zealand team for the World Junior Championships.

“It’s really hard to get selected into and you have to be really up there and play heaps of tournaments so the selectors can watch you and stuff like that.”

Looking further ahead Tait said a professional career and representing New Zealand at the highest level are possibilities.

“I think I probably could make it if I really pushed and backed myself, and I really want to make the Commonwealth Games eventually, like in 10 years.”

Another possibility is a sports scholarship through an American university.

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