|Although neither of the teams featuring a Wimmera flavour reached the medal playoffs of Hockey Victoria’s Junior State Championships played from Thursday to Sunday last week, those involved came away from the tournament with valuable experience.
The state is divided into four country and six metropolitan zones for this event and has separate divisions for boys and girls in Under 13, Under 15, and Under 18 age groups.
Wimmera players are eligible to be selected for the North West Lightning along with those from the North Central, Hockey Central Victoria (Bendigo), and Sunraysia associations
The weather proved to be a memorable part of the four days in Bendigo, with the Under 13 girls playing some of their games in thick fog as they were scheduled to take the field first thing in the morning, and the Under 18 Girls playing evening games when the temperature was regularly in low single figures when they left the venue.
The teams in each age group were initially allocated to one of two pools, and after playing each opponent once, they progressed to Pool C, which played off for the major positions, or Pool D, which fought it out for places five and lower based on their results over the first two days.
The Under 18 Girls Lightning team, which featured Nhill’s Kendra Clark, had a far from ideal start on Thursday with an eight-goal loss to eventual gold medalists, the Eastern Hotshots, but bounced back quickly to finish the day with a win over the North East Red Devils.
Friday was another mixed day with a victory over the South West Eagles but a loss to the metropolitan North West Tigers.
These results saw them progress to the next phase of the tournament in first place on the Pool D ladder.
A win over the Western Wildcats and draw with the Gippsland Bulls on Saturday saw the Lightning finish on top of this Pool and qualify to play the South West Eagles for fifth place on Sunday afternoon.
A hard-fought draw in this game was enough for the Lightning to finish the tournament in fifth place due to better results in the earlier pool stages.
In her first experience at this level, Kendra enjoyed time playing in defence, as she does for her local club, at both left and right half-back, but the main benefit to come out of her participation was the chance to learn from different coaches and to pick up new tactics, set plays, and warm-up drills that she can now bring back to share with her teammates in the Wimmera.
The other two local participants were both from the Horsham club, with Hannah Mackereth playing in her first State tournament when she lined up for the Lightning’s Under 13 Girls, and Paul Mackereth joined the squad to shadow the coaches to gain experience leading players at this level.
This team only enjoyed one win from their four games in the initial pool stage, a one goal win over the Gippsland Bulls on Friday morning, and their only points from their two games in the cross-over pool stage on Saturday was a draw with the North East Knights.
Sunday saw them contest a wildcard match, from which the winner would progress to the seventh-place playoff game, but unfortunately, a loss to the Gippsland Bulls saw them finish in ninth place.
The lack of favourable results will not detract from the positive experience both gained from their involvement and will see them bring back fresh new ideas, which can only benefit hockey in the Wimmera.