District a breeding ground for Eagles

WARRNAMBOOL District Hockey Association juniors make up almost a third of the South West Eagles sides contesting state championships this week.

Thirty-one WDHA players are included in the Eagles’ six sides at the four-day Hockey Victoria titles in Melbourne, which start today.

The biggest contingent is in the under 13 boys’ and under 15 boys’ sides, which have eight members who honed their skills in Warrnambool.

The under 17 boys’ and under 15 girls’ sides also have strong Warrnambool representation, with six and five members respectively.

WDHA junior development officer Jenny Elz said the success of the juniors in earning selection reflected well on the Albert Park-based association.

“There are up to 16 per team, so if you look at that across the six teams, that’s 96 players. That’s a pretty good effort, it’s about a third,” she said.

“Certainly as far as population pool goes, it’s really good. But as far as the number of junior teams, we’re right up there with other associations in the region.

“Our juniors are really expanding at the moment. That will help us and hopefully in future years that will increase more.”

Elz, also one of the Eagles’ three zone co-ordinators, said the under 17 boys started the week as the Eagles’ best hope of success.

“Our under 17 boys we think have a good show — they’ll be the strongest side. The under 15 boys, they might be in the middle of the road,” she said.

“And the others, it’s more about development. The reality is we can’t compete against the metro zones — they could have 100 turn up to trials.

“Their player base, if you look at one club, they have a greater population in that area than we have pretty much for the district,” she said. “It’s not a level playing field so for a lot of our sides it’s about development and being able to play.”

The Eagles’ sides will play four pool matches today and tomorrow before positional play-offs on Thursday and Friday. The matches feature two 20-minute halves. There are four country and six metropolitan zones, with state selectors casting keen eyes over the action.

Chris Ratcliffe is the only WDHA member at the helm of an Eagles’ side, taking charge of the under 17 girls.

Other coaches include Chris Vaughan (17 boys), Gabe Hutchins (15 boys), Mike Risk (15 boys), Claire Barnett (13 girls) and Josh Bartlett (13 boys).

Meanwhile, Warrnambool’s Madi Ratcliffe and her Victorian teammates will today begin their campaign for under 21 national championships glory in Perth.

afawkes@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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