Home court edge for junior volleyball titles
THREE Ipswich school students will go head-to-head in this week's Australian Junior Volleyball Championships on the Gold Coast.
Ipswich Grammar's Tom Wheeler and Tom Pratt will square off against each other after Queensland confirmed they would field two teams against the might of Australia's rising talent.
Joined by Redbank State High School student Hinkley Savea, Wheeler will captain the Queensland Maroons championship squad, while Pratt will join the White development team.
Representatives from six Australian states, and two Oceania countries in New Zealand and Samoa, will field 67 teams across the men's and women's U15, U17 and U19 divisions.
Only NSW, Queensland and Victoria will field more than one team each in the tournament, which Wheeler said was a reflection on the strong standing of volleyball in the three states.
Having represented the Australian Junior Men's Volleyball team this year, the six-foot-eight athlete said there would be a good- natured rivalry between the two Queensland outfits.
"We'll both be staying in the same complex at the athlete village that they have there on the Gold Coast,” he said.
"The pressure is going to be on us being the top team because the development side have nothing to lose.
"They'll be playing for pride and honestly I think either of us have a good chance to win this year.”
Reunited with fellow Met West teammate Savea after their gold medal winning efforts earlier this year, Wheeler said the advantage will be with the Queensland teams when they welcome teams from across the country to fight for their title.
With nine pool games played throughout the week-long competition, a good start will be crucial in securing a top three finish in the finals.
"I think the first two games are going to be the most important,” Wheeler said.
"It's going to be really good for us playing up here because we have used the facilities before.
"Some teams will find it difficult to get used to the environment. It's good to start the week as fresh as possible and make a statement that we mean business, look out for us.”
Currently training at the Gap State High School in preparation for the competition, the Queensland Maroons will have a familiar face in charge of leading the team to victory.
With experience working at the Queensland Academy of Sport and currently playing for the Queensland Pirates volleyball team, Chris Pratt takes a hands-on approach to the role of coach.
"Chris still plays volleyball himself which is great because we get a chance to play against him,” Wheeler said.
"It's good because when he says something we know it's coming from a place of experience and we'll listen to that.
"He knows us all and he's schooled a few of us in the past as well.”
Tomorrow's opening ceremony starts the Australian Junior Volleyball Championships, which run until Sunday.
IPSWICH Grammar senior Tom Wheeler will have plenty of big game experience to draw on for this week's state junior titles.
As a member of the Australian Junior (under-21) Men's Volleyball team, the Year 12 student toured Chinese Taipei in June this year.
Despite finishing ninth in the international competition, Wheeler said defeating the home nation was a huge moment for the young Aussies.
"It was a pretty crazy experience,” he said.
"We had a bad start in our pool games and could only finish ninth at best, which we did.
"The biggest moment for me was when we played the hosts.
"They had a huge crowd of supporters and when we won some of them were crying which was a bit surreal.”
Now ready to captain Queensland, Wheeler hopes to cap off a huge year of representative duties.