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Six grounds, 300 girls, one big comp

23 November 2017

Shelley Nitschke, the International Cricket Council’s 2010 female player of the year, couldn’t hide the pride in her voice when quizzed about how far cricket for females in the state’s mid north had come since her first game in the late 1980s.

On Friday, 33 new girls’ teams – or 300 players - from primary and high schools in the mid north and upper Barossa Valley will compete in a T12 tournament that will be staged at six grounds in Clare, Balaklava, Saddleworth, Mintaro and Kapunda.

The organisers are building on the success of the last two seasons in which the work of the Mid North Strikers Girls (club) League has ensured cricket is the region’s fastest growing sport for females. Testimony to the success of the league in 2016-17 was Cricket Australia used it as a case study to continue its roll out of the nation-wide Growing Cricket for Girls Program.

Nitschke said she couldn’t help but to feel amazed by the hard work and effort volunteers such as Clare school teacher Katie Liebelt, Mid North Junior President Scott ‘Scooter’ Smith and Jamestown Junior Cricket Girls League coach James Lang had invested in the tournament.

“It’s a really good story, and it is a nice feeling to know what is going on in my local area,” said Nitschke, who was regarded as one of world cricket’s great all-rounders. “There wasn’t a game for girls when I played – it was either play with the boys or don’t play at all.

“Now the girls have a clear pathway up there which is fantastic, and it will only inspire more to get involved. It is also a great result for some very good volunteers in the area who are out there, putting in the hard yards and really driving it.”

Clare High School teacher Katie Liebelt, who has organised the Lower North Zone Girls Strikers School League tournament in her official role as Secondary School Sport SA, Lower North Zone Convenor, said she was pleased to be creating an athletic-based opportunity for students who might otherwise not get to experience them.

“With the success of the mid north Strikers (club) League, the success of the WBBL and the fact our area has produced some of South Australia’s best female cricketers, I just thought there was a great opportunity to create a pathway for our girls from school that, hopefully, links into the community and the SACA pathway,” Liebelt said.  

“This initiative will see 300 girls from the mid north region compete, and I would like to acknowledge the school teachers and principals who have supported this project. We also appreciate the great support we have received from Lauren Ebsary and Ben Brown from SACA.

“This is a great opportunity for the girls, especially those, who for many reasons can’t access regular sport, because they can start at school level. Some of the girls who’ll be playing on Friday aren’t engaged or active in community sport, and while a few of them are very nervous it’s great they’re having a go.”

While the region has produced the likes of Nitschke, Lauren Ebsary and current Scorpions captain Tegan McPharlin, Liebelt said many of the girls who’ll play on Friday consider Clare High School student Ellie Falconer a great model.

“Ellie signed contracts with the Adelaide Strikers WBBL team and the South Australian Scorpions while she was still at school,” said Liebelt.” It’s been amazing for the girls to see that and to also see what she has achieved.”

Tahlia McGrath, who played her part in helping the Australian women’s team win the recent Ashes series, said news of the tournament was pleasing, and she advised the newcomers to cricket to focus on one thing.

“They’ll see it is a great sport, but I think the biggest thing is to focus on enjoyment and playing with your friends,” said McGrath, from Adelaide.

Cricket Australia has provided $36,000 to the school teams through the Growing Cricket for Girls funding, with support from SACA.

The tournament will commence at each oval at 10am, and the mid north is helping to ensure cricket is a game for all Australians by including a competition for students with disabilities.