Year in Review- champions overcome their challenges

Berwick teenager Izzy Rampant was one of the stories of 2021. 257768 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Nick Creely and David Nagel

While 2021 has provided some bright moments, the challenges felt by our local sporting community from the Covid-19 pandemic have once again been profound.

However, through thick and thin the rich sporting region of the south-east has seen many achievements to celebrate, and give optimism that 2022 will be one uninterrupted and allow the community to more widely come together as one.

The major sporting story of 2021 was the Tokyo Olympic Games in July, where some of our local athletes truly shone on the international stage.

Amy Lawton (Emerald, Hockey), Heming Hu (Dandenong, Table Tennis), Laetisha Scanlan (Berwick, shooting), Sergei Evglevski (Berwick, shooting), Bec Henderson (Narre Warren, athletics) all represented the local region and their country with immense pride,

Scanlan, 31-year-old, in particular got close to a memorable Olympic medal, finishing fourth in the Women’s Trap final, while Amy Lawton had a very promising Olympic debut campaign for the Hockeyroos.

While the results didn’t quite go our locals’ way at times, there were so many things to smile about, with Bec Henderson putting in a great effort in race-walking, Sergei Evglevski showed tremendous spirit, while Table Tennis champion Heming Hu was a captivating athlete to watch.

Another story that pulled at the heartstrings was at the Berwick Montuna golf course, where people from all walks of life can together to remember their great mate – Ash De La Rue.

His was a life tragically cut short by cancer, leaving behind a loving family – including a young son.

But his was a life that will never be forgotten.

Two of De La Rue’s great mates, Justin Stanton and Jeff Bernard, organised a golf day they lovingly named ‘Flynn’s Sporting Journey’ as it was held to raise funds for young four-year-old Flynn as he progresses in his chosen endeavours, be they academic or sporting.

“Ash was just one of these guys who was actively involved in a number of areas throughout the community, as well as being a construction manager at Mirvac,” Stanton said.

“He touched a lot of people in different ways, either by providing them with employment, or just being involved socially. Jeff and I decided that if we put a golf day together, we’d try and raise some money to put into a trust account for Flynn that Ash’s sister Sheridan could manage.

“It was just one of those things where the local guys wanted to do something to acknowledge the passing of Flynn’s dad Ashley and have this as an annual event.”

With the majority of sporting competitions such as Big V basketball, state-league soccer, hockey and winter baseball managing to get a season start, Covid-19 had the final say in the end with all competitions cancelled with an eye on 2022.

Disappointment was evident across the region at the cancellation of community sport, and with a sense of déjà vu after 2020; the importance of staying connected was all the more important.

But there were still so many wonderful achievements from local clubs, leagues and sportspeople before Covid hit once more.

At the elite level, reigning A-League Men premiers Melbourne City officially moved into its new base at Casey Fields.

The local boxing scene was in full force in April, with the Doveton Boxing Club sending three boxers over to compete against Tasmania in the annual Regional tournament, finding great success with 13-year-old Isaac Johnson picking up a win, 26-year-old Eden Hansted also showed terrific signs with a win, while 38-year-old Shane Lynch fought hard in his matchup.

Emerging para-athlete Jack Howell is another athlete to keep an eye on as he gears up for the Paris Paralympics in 2024.

Howell – a student from Kambrya College in Berwick – is a para athlete booming in able-bodied triathlons, with the dream of reaching the Paralympics.

The 17-year-old was born with a congenital amputation of his left hand from the wrist.

“I still have growth and development to gain in the sport, but to already be competitive shows that I have the potential to race at an elite level in the future,” he said.

Casey Basketball Association (CBA) continued its rapid rise in the world of Victorian basketball with September’s announcement that the Cavaliers will join the Coles Express NBL1 South competition in 2022.

“We are excited to join NBL1 South as it’s something we’ve been striving towards across the last few years,” Casey General Manager Tammy Bower said.

“For us, being in NBL1 South is the reward for our hard work – I feel we’ve put in a lot of effort in to being the best in everything we do and joining NBL1 South is an amazing outcome for everyone involved in our association.

“Our players, coaches, board members, staff members and volunteers have done an amazing job getting us to this level and we’re ready to take the step up.”

One youngster who defied Covid-19 was Berwick teenager Isabella Rampant who pushed the negativity of lockdowns to one side to smash out an incredible 100-consecutive days of CrossFit workouts at her local gym.

The 14-year-old – better known as Izzy – ticked off the magical milestone on her ongoing journey at Cardinia CrossFit in Pakenham in November.

“Through Covid lockdowns we did zoom classes; I had equipment at home and it became something to do every day,” she said.

“It was lots of fun and there was always someone else on zoom so I had someone to chat too as well. You would see them every day, it was really good and it helped me keep sane mentally.”

And a review of 2021 would not be complete without a look back at the win of King Magnus in the $500,000 Listed TAB Cranbourne Cup (1600m).

Heavy rains – that almost called a halt to the cup meeting at his home track – turned into a perfect storm for Cranbourne trainer Robbie Griffiths after the popular local claimed his first home-town cup success.

Griffiths, who now trains in partnership with Mathew de Kock, has been a familiar face at Cranbourne for 30 years, when a young jockey decided to dip his toes into the training ranks after rising weight became a burden on his riding career.

Griffiths trained his first winner in 1992 – Go Raami – and won his first Group-1 in 2016 when The Quarterback won the Newmarket Handicap.

But you get the feeling that the Cranbourne Cup win ranks right alongside that Group-1 in terms of importance.

“This is big, this is very special because to win your hometown cup, especially this year, the inaugural running of the TAB Cranbourne Cup, in our first year as a partnership, it’s very, very special,” Griffiths said post-race.

“Neil Bainbridge (Cranbourne Turf Club CEO) and the team have done a fantastic job so it’s very special.”

King Magnus, a six-year-old gelding out of Magnus/Influential Miss, was having just his second start in heavy going, running last of 13 the only time he had stepped out on heavy ground at Sandown in June last year.

But King Magnus had been a model of consistency since then, finishing top two in six of his eight starts since that poor effort at Sandown, that came after putting on a buck-jumping display.

Jockey Lachlan King settled King Magnus midfield, but made a sweeping run around the home turn to emerge as a leading contender.

King Magnus dug deep in the home straight, surging with 100-metres to run to hold off the late efforts of race-favourite Our Playboy, with So Si Bon back in third.

Griffiths said King Magnus will now have a well-deserved break before possibly being targeted at a huge prize in the autumn.

“He’s going to have a break now, we spoke to Greg Carpenter (Handicapper) the other day about nominating him for the All-Star Mile,” Griffiths said.

“Whether he’s good enough I’m not sure, but he’ll have a lot of backing, people will follow him, that’s for sure.”

The Cranbourne Cup meeting was almost abandoned before the first race, with three leading riders inspecting the track after unseasonal heavy rains had the track teetering on a heavy-10 rating.

But the rains, that had caused so much damage later in the week, finally eased to allow the program, which carried a record $1.6million in prizemoney, to proceed.