Alana Kavanagh and Grace Young have already experienced the adrenaline rush – and honour – of representing Australia’s senior women’s Hockey team, the Hockeyroos, but neither could contain their pride and excitement in being selected for the Jillaroos to compete at the FIH Hockey Junior Women’s World Cup in Chile.
Fellow New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) scholarship athlete Makayla Jones will join the 18-player Aussie team when it jets out to Santiago next week. They’re members of a squad which contains seven capped Hockeyroos who have amassed a total of 171 matches between them.
The Jillaroos start their Junior World Cup campaign against the Netherlands on November 29 [local time] before playing Chile and South Africa in their other two pool matches. Kavanagh, aged 20, said her selection was the end result of a long campaign.
“We’ve done a lot of preparation leading into this,” said Kavanagh. “It’s been 18 months, a lot of us have been to all of the camps, and from the get-go it’s been all about preparing for this Junior World Cup.
“[Selection in the squad] is so special, but it’s a bit daunting as well. It’ll be really exciting to go to Chile and show everyone what we’ve got.”
Kavanagh – who revealed her nerves were eased before making her debut for the Hockeyroos earlier this year when the coaching staff advised her to not worry if she made a mistake because no-one would get mad at her – said her international honours were the result of a long-term plan and a solid commitment.
“I’ve invested a lot of my time in hockey,” said Kavanagh, a product of the Northern Districts club. “I’ve been at NSWIS for two or three years now, but my [100 percent commitment to my goals] started five or so years ago.
“First it was trying to work into the NSWIS program, and then looking . . . working towards . . . the bigger picture; getting into your first Australian team and progressing from there.”
For Grace Young, who was born in Grafton, where the city’s famous jacaranda trees have exploded into their burst of purple, the trip is another opportunity to savour international hockey.
“This will be great, it’s really special to represent your country,” said Young, who learnt the sport’s fundamentals via rough ‘n tumble backyard matches against her older brother Sam, also an Aussie representative.
“The whole Jillaroos team have put in lots of effort over the last 18 months, so it’ll be very cool for us to go to Chile and show what we have on the world stage.”
In an open letter Jillaroos Head Coach Stacia Strain penned to the team and its supporters, she praised the quality of the players who’d made the squad – and those who pushed for selection.
“It is an incredibly talented group who have been selected not just based on their skills but also for their outstanding work ethic, grit, and a commitment to our culture. What we believe are the true hallmarks of Australian hockey,” she wrote.
The words resonated with Goulburn’s Mikayla Jones, who hopes to be a part of the first Jillaroos squad to win the Junior World Cup, with Australia’s best showing being the silver medals they won at the tournament’s 1993 and 1997 editions.
“This is my first time representing my country,” said Jones, with an unmistakable pride. “It’s something I’ve worked for, and it’s so special to do it with such a great group of girls because we’ve all put in so much work and effort to get there.”
Jones said her selection was the end result of an army of people investing faith and energy in her.
“There’s a lot of people who – small, big, anything – have helped me along the way,” she said. “I’d like to think this would be as special for them as it is for me . . . to see something so great achieved.”
Jones hoped her selection in the Jillaroo’s squad would inspire others in her hometown to realise that they, too, could fulfill their dreams.
“It doesn’t happen every day,” Jones said of her selection in a national squad. “Goulburn is a great town and it’s full of people who get behind you.
“I’ve received literally millions of messages! I also think it’s good for hockey, and we’re fortunate to be in a small town that has a huge appreciation for such a great sport.”
The talented trio have played important roles in the NSW Pride team that are on track to defend their Hockey One League title after cementing their spot at Finals Main Event with last week’s 3-1 victory over Perth.
Meanwhile, five NSWIS athletes have been selected for the 20-player Burras squad that will represent Australia at the FIH Hockey Men’s Junior World Cup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 5-16 December.
Nathan Czinner, Dylan Downey, Jake Lambeth, Toby Mallon and Michael Taylor were selected in a squad that’s described as ‘brimming with talent.’
From the 20 players selected, the final 18 who will travel to Kuala Lumpur will be announced on 17 November, as well as the two non-travelling reserves.
The Burras’ first pool match is a blockbuster against defending champions Argentina, before taking on Chile and hosts Malaysia. The top two teams at the end of the pool stage progress to the quarter finals, with the Final to be played on 16 December.
Burras Head Coach Jay Stacy said he is extremely pleased with the group that has been assembled.
“It has been a long process . . . over two years to get to this point and giving opportunities to some younger players coming through,” said Stacy. “We have finally narrowed it down to a team with a skillset that we think can go deep at the Junior World Cup.”
“It’s exciting with our recent performances at the Sultan of Johor Cup. Losing the Final in a shootout to Germany who are one of the world’s top nations, we’re excited by the growth and continual improvement we’ve had right through our preparation.
“The players want to show you what they’ve got but we always reflect that it is a team first attitude. We have a saying in the Burras that whatever action you perform in the game, you’re trying to help the guy beside you have his best day. That team first attitude is significantly important.”
The Burras have won the Men’s Junior World Cup once back in 1997, while Australia also secured three silver and two bronze medals in the history of the competition. The Burras missed the last Junior World Cup in 2021 due to COVID restrictions.
Every match of the tournament will be shown on Watch.Hockey.
Photo & words Daniel Lane, NSWIS; additional reporting by Hockey Australia