Sport

Crookwell a hotbed of sporting talent as hockey players prepare for Australian championships

Clare McCabe3 April 2022
Girls in sports uniform

Billie Skelly, Annie Knight and Chloe Kemp will play for the ACT at the Australian Championships. Photo: Supplied.

Eleven promising stars from the Upper Lachlan Shire are preparing to represent their state in the 2022 Hockey Australia Championships this month.

Aged between 13 and 16 years old, the students will face off with some of the country’s best players in Cairns and Newcastle to vie for gold.

School principal Vero Joseph said he was “proud” of all the Crookwell High School students.

“We have so many outstanding kids at this school,” he said.

“We are a small school with 230 kids; when we have so many kids reach a representative level, it shows the amount of work and commitment they put in for their training and matches.

“It’s great to see that our kids are still getting in there despite having the break from sport over the last two years because of health restrictions.”


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For a small rural town of about 3000 residents, Crookwell has produced many elite athletes that have blazed the trail for young hockey players.

Crookwell’s Emily Chalker represented Australia in more than 250 games and at three Olympics. Desmond Spackman competed at the 1956 and 1960 Olympics and at the time, was considered to be Australia’s best defender. More recently the town yielded former Hockeyroos player Kellie White. The portraits of nearly three dozen more locals who reached great success in their sport hang in the Crookwell Wall of Fame gallery at the Crookwell Memorial Hall.

This new generation of sports stars has grown up playing club hockey in Crookwell. Many started playing with the Crookwell Junior Hockey Association when they were four or five years old.

Sam McGregor was just three years old when he first picked up a hockey stick competitively in Crookwell. The now 14-year-old made a name for himself when he captained the Metropolitan South West Hockey Association team that won the NSW Indoor Championships in Division 1.


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Defender Billie Skelly was four years old when she started playing in the Crookwell juniors and she said getting selected to represent the ACT was a highlight for her participating in the sport.

As they grew older and more competitive, many of the players travel for hours across hundreds of kilometres attending training and games in Canberra, Goulburn and Sydney, often more than three times a week.

Thirteen-year-old Will Heffernan is committed to training twice weekly in Canberra.

“In one week, I made three trips to Canberra, one to Sydney and one to Goulburn, all for hockey,” he said.

He will be playing in the goalkeeper position representing the ACT at the nationals.

Hockey player

Bella Croker trains for hockey four nights a week and plays three days in Goulburn and a day in Sydney. Photo: Supplied.

Also representing the ACT from Crookwell High School are Annie Knight, Billie Skelly, Tyler Smith, Jay Knight, George Lee, Sam McGregor, Chloe Kemp, Harry Skelly and Eliza Kemp. Meanwhile, 14-year-old Bella Croker will play for NSW.

It’s not just hockey the students are excelling at. Recently 16-year-old Lacey Cosgrove represented NSW at the Australian Country Cricket Championships.

Despite her short time competing in the sport she is now playing in the ACT women’s competition.

She said the best part about touring around the state is “meeting new people” and “facing new and different bowlers”.

Midfielder Annie Knight says local heroes like Chalker playing competitive hockey for the country inspires her to work hard towards achieving her goals.

“I take each challenge, game and training session as it comes and give 100 per cent each time,” she said.

Hockey goalkeeper

Goalkeeper Will Heffernan recorded 67 saves in five games at the Indoor State Championships. Photo: Supplied.

More experienced players, including Bella Croker, will return for a second year in the mid-field and striker positions. In 2021 she was part of the winning team at the Australian Nationals held in Bathurst and in 2019 led the NSW PSSA state hockey team.

Meanwhile, Harry Skelly helped lead the state team to a second-place finish at the Australian Nationals in Hobart two years ago, and he has also captained the Under 15s ACT team.

Skelly said he admired athletes like the recently retired Australian tennis champion Ash Barty.

“The way she helps out her local indigenous community and promotes them. She went from a cricketer to the world number one tennis player, it just goes to show what hard work and dedication does,” he said.

Chloe Kemp is excited about taking to the pitch for the Under 15s ACT team and she is also looking forward to making new friends, she said.

Another future face of Crookwell hockey is Eliza Kemp, she will compete in Cairns as a member of the Under 18s ACT team.

“I’m most looking forward to pushing my mind and body to its limits and having fun with a great group of girls,” she said.

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