Opportunity knocks for Academy youngsters

ACADEMY GAMES

Illawarra Academy hockey coach Gaye Tarrant believes this weekend's Academy Games will be the perfect opportunity for developing players to establish themselves at an elite level.

With many top-squad members away on state commitments, the Illawarra selectors had to issue a call to arms to fill their squad for the two-day carnival.

Tarrant feels that the reshaped team could prove to be just as beneficial for younger players in the region.

"It will give a lot of the players who haven't been quite making it to the next level, the chance to have that competition and be able to be the ones in the team who step up and take that control," she said.

"I think it is actually giving a great opportunity for those players to stand up and be noticed."

Known as a breeding ground for some of Australia's best hockey players, the Illawarra has seen a slight decline in recent times, says Tarrant.

The former Australian indoor representative is confident there is a revival on the Illawarra's doorstep.

"Illawarra has always been strong; it started to taper off in the last couple of years so it is actually really great that these younger ones are getting the chance to have these extra games, especially against some [of the] older players," Tarrant said.

"We have started to slip behind but now we are clawing our way back in, so it is a great way for them to hone their skills."

Tarrant returned to coach the Illawarra Academy last year after she first mentored the youth squad in 1996 and 1997.

The lure of nurturing the region's top talent proved to be the ideal enticement for the former indoor green and gold skipper.

"To see former athletes like Kyah Gray playing in the Arrows and Grace Stewart, who is still an Academy athlete, getting selected in Futures - it is great to see them progressing through like that," Tarrant said.

"Also to have this many away through state teams is a really good indication of how good the program is."

The games officially begin on Friday night at the University of Wollongong Sports Hub.

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