Natalie Austin (keeper) in action for the St Matthew’s Collegiate first XI. PHOTO/CMG ACTION IMAGES

JAKE BELESKI

jake.beleski@age.co.nz

St Matthew’s Collegiate first XI hockey player Natalie Austin is quick to deflect praise when talking about her invitation to attend Hockey New Zealand’s under-18 development camp.

Natalie, 16, is the youngest of four female goalkeepers from across New Zealand who will attend the camp.

Her selection follows strong performances at the Federation Cup secondary schools tournament and at a recent invitational Hockey New Zealand specialist clinic.

Natalie said her teammates were central to her success on the turf, and that many of them had “amazing skills and determination”.

“If it wasn’t for this level of skill and competition at trainings, I would not have improved as much as I have.”

There is no shortage of praise for the coaches either.

“I could not thank them (Phil Hall and Jenni Lambert) enough for the opportunities they provide and the advice they give,” she said.

“One of the opportunities they provided was getting a New Zealand representative Coach (Sean Dancer) to work with us, which is when I think I got noticed.”

To be discovered in her school team and not a regional under-18 team such as Central was amazing, she said.

“Phil and Jenny are just the right type of coaches for me.

“They are competitive and they tell us when we need to step up but they know when to have a laugh because hockey is meant to be fun.”

Her goals have changed since the start of the year — initially she was planning on playing in the field for the Wairarapa Under-18s to improve her understanding of strategy, while learning to communicate better to field players for when she plays in-goal.

“Playing for St Matthew’s was going to be my only source of goal keeping development for this year,” she said.

“I wasn’t really doing anything to stand out to the selectors from Hockey New Zealand.”

Natalie said she had no expectations of being selected for the reduced development squad post her attendance at the invitational specialist clinic.

“The competition was definitely high.

“I was surrounded by goalies that have played in the Junior Black Sticks already and by those that are the top in their greater region for their age group.”

Behind the scenes, plans are already in place to ensure the continued success of the St Matthew’s teams on the hockey turf in 2018 and beyond.

Those plans include the initiation of the extensive pre-season development programme in February and further coaching from Dancer.

The team will then head to the annual ANZAC Tournament hosted by St Cuthbert’s College in Auckland, where they will play other teams who are ranked in the top 10 across New Zealand.

It is hoped these preparations will help the team achieve their goal of defending the Wellington Premier 1 title and bettering their current ranking of 10th in New Zealand.

The 2018 hockey season will also see the school’s second XI defending their winning title in the local competition.