|Underage hockey teams from around the state converged on Melbourne over the weekend for the annual Junior Country Championships, and although no Wimmera teams participated, several local players joined squads from other Associations.
Warracknabeal players Ben Williamson and Clarice Bennett represented the North Central Under 18 Boys and Sunraysia Under 18 Girls, and Jonathan Dixon, Jacob Dixon, and Max Goodwin, all from Kaniva, and Tom Batchelor from Horsham, played for the Sunraysia Under 18 Boys. All of the Under 18 games were played at the Footscray Hockey Centre, with games in the other age groups played at other venues around Melbourne.
The Sunraysia Boys started the tournament with losses to Albury Wodonga, Ballarat, and East Gippsland but finished day one with a win in the twilight game over Goulburn Valley.
Max Goodwin scored the team’s only goal in their loss to Ballarat.
North Central didn’t have a great Saturday either, with losses to Ballarat, Central Victoria (Bendigo), Albury Wodonga, and East Gippsland.
The biggest game for these teams came on Sunday morning when they played each other in the ‘battle of the north-west’ where Sunraysia came out on top, with Tom Batchelor scoring one of their three goals to defeat North Central, who scored twice.
North Central earned their only points with a two-all draw with Goulburn Valley in their last game, with Ben Williamson scoring one goal. Even with this result, they finished in seventh place on the ladder.
In their last game, Sunraysia lost to Central Victoria, which left them in a credible fifth place amongst some strong opponents.
Central Victoria defeated Albury Wodonga to win the final.
The Sunraysia girls started their weekend with losses to Goulburn Valley and Albury Wodonga, but they came out on top in their North-West derby with a two goals to one victory over North Central.
Their last preliminary game was a loss to East Gippsland, but they still qualified for another encounter with North Central in the elimination final.
After a tight game, Sunraysia progressed to the Third-Place Playoff game with a 3-2 win, and in that match, they reversed the result of their previous meeting with East Gippsland with a 3-1 win to finish the tournament in third place.
Albury Wodonga defeated Goulburn Valley by one goal to win the final and the title of 2021 Under 18 Girls champions.
Although the results were not what these teams would have wanted, the opportunity to play at this higher level, experience the influence of different coaches, and play alongside new teammates will provide valuable for those involved.