HOCKEY has played a massive part in 16-year-old Josh Mayo's sporting career, culminating in a recent tour of South Africa with the CHS under 17s.
Albion Park Hockey Club's Mayo was joined on the tour by fellow Gerringong teenager Grace Stewart, with the pair agreeing the tour was definitely one to remember.
The Australian boys side played three warm-up matches, before contesting a three-match test series with South Africa.
After winning all three of their warm-up games, they started the test series with a 4-1 win, before the locals squared things up in game two 3-2.
Fortunately they came back to win the third game 3-1 and clinch the series.
Mayo said playing in the series was incredible and like nothing he had ever experienced before.
"I've definitely gained some confidence and learned some things I can bring back home when I play in local rep teams and for my club side Albion Park," he said.
It was Mayo's first time playing hockey overseas and he said the quality of the opposition was top-class.
"Australia is No 1 in senior rankings, so we always have quality players across the board," he said.
"But South Africa have a very strong junior base, so we were always expecting a tough competition and they really did give it to us," he added.
But the trip was not all about hockey, with the team getting to some sightseeing as well.
"We went on safari, about an hour outside of Durban, and we also went into a Zulu village," he said.
"It was pretty cool to experience the traditional cultures and to see how they live.
"It's very different, so it was a bit of an eye-opener."
While he enjoyed the travelling part of the trip, there is no doubt the hockey was the best part.
"Winning the series was definitely the highlight, but also making lots of new friends," he said.
"I felt I played fairly well and matched all the expectations I placed upon myself," he added.
It was the first time Mayo had represented Australia, but he is hoping more opportunities will follow.
"Singing the national anthem for your country, there's nothing like it," he said.
"It was pretty incredible hearing their cheers and their home crowd singing their national anthem.
"It was pretty crazy, but a great experience though."
Mayo has already been selected in the NSW under-18s squad for next year and said the experience in South Africa has motivated him to make more representative squads.
In the future he is hoping to make the step up to playing for the Australian under 21s and eventually the men's national team.
Grace Stewart admits to being taken by surprise when she was named to captain the Australian girls team.
Stewart was unaware that the honour was to be bestowed on her until the team gathered in the dressing rooms before their first lead-up game.
"Being captain didn't really even cross my mind - I hadn't worried about it, but it was certainly very special, especially when you lead the team onto the field," Stewart said.
"The national anthems were really good too."
The warm-up games were disappointing as the opposition weren't very strong.
"I think we won by scores like 19-0 and stuff like that, but the tests against South Africa were much tougher.
"We won them all first one 4-1, the second one was closer, we won 3-2, but we played better in the third one and won 5-1 and to win the series 3-0 was great."
Following the tournament she received the great honour of being named Players' Player.
In a busy year, the 17-year-old played the national under-18s for NSW and was selected in the under 21s, but had to withdraw from the 21 side as it clashed with the South African tour, however she has been retained in the 21s squad for next season.
She said the tour was special not just for the hockey, but their visits to Capetown and Durban.
"While we were in Capetown we visited Table Mountain and went to the prison where Nelson Mandela was held, also went to a game park near Durban, which was really good."
Hockey will now take a back seat to touch football as she takes her place in the NSW Open Schools team for the national titles in Queensland in September.