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A day of schoolgirl nerves and awesome breakthroughs

30 November 2017

Talia Penna, Clare High School

“I was very nervous; it felt as though it was 100 miles per hour...I kind of panicked...it felt amazing; it felt like a massive adrenaline [rush]. It was great.”

With that, Clare High School student Jenn McNeil described someone bowling a cricket ball at her for the first time in her young life.

McNeil took strike during a T12 tournament for 300 school girls in South Australia’s scenic mid north region, and it will be remembered as a day of nerves, music, dancing, breakthrough moments and, for most, an introduction to cricket.

Her batting partner – and fellow debutant - Talia Penna, felt as equally anxious under her helmet as she watched Kapunda High’s bowler run in to bowl at her.

“I was like ‘oh my gosh, it’s so scary,” laughed Penna at the memory.

The pair quickly overcame their nerves to score some invaluable runs during their unbeaten last-wicket stand, and after helping to win the game they described the experience as awesome.

The collective excitement of the day made for a unique tournament in which 33 teams of students from Years 6 through to 10 embraced the sport with tremendous enthusiasm and energy. The organisers also ensured cricket lived up to its mantra of being the game for all Australians by including a competition for Students with Disabilities.

With the music that boomed from the speakers throughout the day inspiring impromptu dancing and singing throughout all games, the players quickly found their own rhythm in the matches that were staged at ovals in Clare, Balaklava, Saddleworth, Mintaro and Kapunda.

Clare High School teacher Katie Liebelt, who was the driving force for the tournament in her capacity as Secondary School Sports SA Lower North Zone Convenor, explained there were many reasons why she wanted to expose hundreds of girls to cricket in a region where, thanks to the success of the mid north Strikers (club) league, it is the region’s fastest growing sport for females.

 “I think there is always going to be a big boundary [for a girl] to go out to a club team for the first time,” said Liebelt.

“Girls have a lot of barriers to participation around finance, but there’s also being able to get [to training and matches] in the country. So, if we do this at school level, I feel it gives the girls an opportunity to have a day out with their friends, see the fun and enjoy cricket.”

One player who certainly enjoyed her first organised game was Shania Chenoweth, a talented ice hockey player, whose only cricket experience before bowling at Kapunda Oval was in backyard Tests with her father and brother.

“I cop a bit from my brother because [my bowling] isn’t the greatest, but I do alright,” she said. “I caught someone off one of my ‘bowls’, so that was pretty good.”

In a region that’s produced such champion female cricketers as Shelly Nitschke, the ICC’s 2010 female player of the year; current Scorpions skipper Tegan McPharlin, Aussie international Lauren Ebsary and Adelaide Strikers WBBL rookie Ellie Falconer, Kapunda High School teacher Mark Leslie hoped the energy-charged tournament he umpired, scored and coached in, helped to foster a new interest in some of his pupils.

“It’s a good entry point for those who want to go and take it a step further,” he said of the tournament.

The day was a huge success through the efforts of volunteers such as Liebelt, Scott ‘Scooter’ Smith, James Lang and SACA staff including Lauren Ebsary, Ben Brown, Steve Kavanagh and Vanessa Walker.

And if Jenn McNeil’s unbridled enthusiasm was a gauge just moments after she finished batting – and, against the ball that seemed as though it rocketed towards her “at 100mph” – the day was a winner.

“I’m going to go home and tell my mum it’s great to play cricket, and I want to play cricket all the time,” she enthused.


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