A day of schoolgirl nerves and awesome breakthroughs | Cricket Australia

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A day of schoolgirl nerves and awesome breakthroughs

November 30, 2017

Clare High School’s Talia Penna taking strike in her first game of cricket

By Daniel Lane

“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 was 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 thoroughly enjoy their initiation to cricket, by scoring runs during their unbeaten last-wicket stand.

However, the collective excitement of the day made for a unique tournament in which 33 teams of students from Years 6-10 embraced the day with tremendous enthusiasm and energy. The organisers also helped ensure cricket is a game for all Australians by including a competition for Students with Disabilities.

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

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 the girls to cricket.

 “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 backyard Tests with her father and brother.

“I cop a bit of abuse 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 also coached in might 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 – against the ball that seemed as though it rocketed towards her “at 100mph” – the day was a hand’s down 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 said.