By Grant Hitzman
The Capricornia Gems will be looking to shine when they make their debut as a standalone region at the Under-17 Youth Girls State Championships from October 24.
After eight years of combining with Mackay and Wide Bay, Capricornia will field 22-women from local Central Queensland areas including Rockhampton and Gladstone.
Capricornia Development Officer, Ben Hopkins, said the opportunity for the Gems to compete as a single entity is crucial to the growth and development of AFL in Central Queensland.
“Competing as our own region and sourcing the team’s talent 100% from local areas is a fantastic opportunity to show the rest of the state what Central Queensland is made of,” Hopkins said.
“It is also going to be a great chance for more of our girls to access a great footy pathway and possibly have a crack at National championship selection.”
Although the Youth Championships will provide an opportunity for the Gems to compete against some of the state’s best and brightest female talent, Hopkins is adamant that exposure and experience are the number one goals.
“A lot of these girls have come from the school competition and don’t play AFL as their priority sport,” Hopkins said.
“Encouraging those girls to make the transition, gain some more experience, learn about the game and maybe even sway them to join a club is the real goal.
“Obviously they want to win and the competitive drive is there but I really think this is more of an opportunity to get the girls out on the park and have a kick, winning will work itself out.”
Capricornia have taken their selection process very seriously, holding various open days to source talent from both school and club competitions.
“Finding the right balance of girls is difficult and we have taken the process very seriously to make sure we see as many girls as possible before making a final cut,” Hopkins said.
“Although we don’t have our final squad set in stone, 30 girls have been coming for training sessions across the past month and we have been watching every step of the way.
“There will be a final practice game this weekend and then the coaching and development staff will sit down and make a final decision of who gets the nod.”
Although the Gems haven’t locked in their 22 to represent Capricornia at the championships, they can rely on at least one experienced head to lead the team against some stiff competition.
Rockhampton Panthers gun, Hannah Davidson, will captain the side after representing Queensland in 2013 and travelling to Melbourne to participate in the AIS performance academy squad.
“Hannah has been a fantastic junior footballer in Central Queensland and her level at such a young age is remarkable,” Hopkins said.
“Tenielle Bruton and Tashina Ketchup are also two young talents to watch out for and I fully expect them to make an impact.
“Tenielle (Bruton) was unlucky to miss out on state selection last year and has harnessed her skills even further at club level in the past 12 months.
The championships will see Capricornia face off against nine other teams over three days at AFL Queensland’s Training and Administration Centre in Yeronga.
The best players from the championships will be selected in the Queensland state squad to compete at the 2015 National Championships.