21/U nationals is where young talent shines

Kate Shimmin 21/UThe 21/U National Netball Championships has long been considered the finishing school for Australia’s top netball talent.

The tournament has a rich history, stretching back to the early 1950’s, and has been the launching pad for the career of many of the game’s greats.

The Australian 21/U program gives these young athletes an early taste of what’s required to success at international level if and when they get the opportunity to step into the Diamonds environment.

Since 1988, every four years, a side is picked to contest the World Youth Netball Championship and selection in that team is always the highlight for any young player coming through the age group in that particular cycle.

This year’s 21/U national championships is returning to Adelaide for the first time since 2006 – a fitting opportunity for South Australia as it is the defending champion, having won their first title since 2004 in the ACT last year.

Six states are contesting the tournament, which concludes on Sunday.

South Australia and Western Australia meet to open this year’s titles tomorrow morning under the watchful eyes of new Australian 21/U coach Tania Obst – who guided the state to victory last year – and selectors Nicole Richardson and Lisa Alexander, coach of the Australian Diamonds.

A national 21/U squad will be announced at the end of the tournament that will attend a camp in Canberra during the year.

It was at these titles in 2012 where Kimberley Ravaillion came to prominence and, within a year of guiding her home state New South Wales to its fifth consecutive 21/U title, she had earned her first Test cap and an ANZ Championship contract with the Queensland Firebirds.

The year before, the names Paige Hadley, April Letton, Verity Simmons, Gabi Simpson and Abbey McCulloch helped guide NSW to yet another title down in Melbourne.

Since 2009, the Most Valuable Player award has been given at the conclusion of the tournament to the athlete judged the best performed over the week.

The names on that honour roll includes Letton – who won it back-to-back years – Kimberley Borger (NSW), Chanel Gomes (Queensland), Courtney Bruce (Western Australia) and last year’s winner Kate Shimmin (South Australia), pictured above.

All have played at ANZ Championship level.

The nucleus of the current Australian Diamonds squad all played at the 2006 tournament in Adelaide.

Victoria won the title – no surprise when you looked at its squad and see the names Julie Corletto, Caitlin Thwaites, Sharni Layton, Madison Browne and Renae Hallinan.

Runners up was Western Australia that boasted Caitlin Bassett, NSW finished third with Erin Bell and Kimberlee Green part of its squad while the Queensland line-up had the name Laura Geitz.

Other well-known names who took part in that year’s tournament included Emily Beaton (South Australia), Clare McMeniman (Queensland), Karyn Bailey (ACT), Vanessa Ware (NSW), Johannah Curran (Victoria) and WA’s quartet of Kate Beveridge, Josie Janz, Andrea Gilmore and Susan Fuhrman.

Of the other states playing this week, Victoria’s last title came in 2007 up in Brisbane, WA hasn’t held the trophy since winning in the ACT in 2005 while Queensland’s best finish has been third – 2002 (Sydney), 2008 (Perth) and 2009 (ACT).

Keep a close eye on the results over the coming week as you never know who will become `household names’ in the Australian colours for the Netball World Cup in 2019 or the 2022 Commonwealth Games.