Hunter divers deliver for NSW

WINNERS: Olivia Dillon, 16, Liam Wood, 12, Amelia Dillon, 13, and Liam Connelly, 17.  Picture: Anita Jones
WINNERS: Olivia Dillon, 16, Liam Wood, 12, Amelia Dillon, 13, and Liam Connelly, 17. Picture: Anita Jones

THERE are few things Novocastrians enjoy more than giant-killing victories against sporting rivals from the big smoke.

And Hunter United Diving Club members did their bit to uphold that tradition at the Australian age championships in Perth last week, returning with 10 medals - five of which were gold.

Six Hunter United divers - Liam Connelly, Liam Wood, Monique Collin, Charlotte Moore and sisters Olivia and Amelia Dillon - represented NSW and helped the two-blues emerge as the overall champion state, despite being outnumbered almost two to one by Victoria.

Connelly, who was the NSW boys' captain for the second consecutive year, won a gold medal in the 14-18 years synchronised springboard event after teaming with Queenslander Matt Skennar.

The 17-year-old from Floraville also collected a bronze in the 18 years platform event.

Wood, from Fletcher, won a gold in the 13-14 years synchro after partnering Canberra's Callum Burden, and added individual bronzes in the three-metre and one-metre springboard events.

Olivia Dillon, of Waratah, was crowned champion in the 16-18 years 3m springboard and claimed bronze medals in the 1m springboard and platform competitions.

She then partnered Amelia, her younger sibling, to win a second gold medal in the 14-18 years girls' synchro.

Hunter United coach Eric Brooker said his proteges' success was a reward for perseverance.

Unlike their big-city opponents, who practice almost exclusively in indoor aquatic centres, the team's only training facility in Newcastle is Lambton Pool, which means battling the elements.

During winter, the nearest training venue is Sydney's Olympic Park.

"We've always done well at the nationals," Brooker said yesterday.

"I think being in a smaller group like we are here in Newcastle, training outdoors six months of the year and then travelling to Sydney during the winter, it's a big commitment.

"These kids do it tough, so we've always bred them tough up here. That's why we've always had outstanding results at nationals.

"With our young group this year, they've done exceptionally well."

Brooker said Hunter United would have won even more medals except for an untimely injury to Warners Bay's Liam Heather, who broke his thumb a week before the nationals and was unable to compete.

"Looking at the fields that were there in his age group, I think he would have done extremely well," he said.

Brooker, who founded Hunter United almost three decades ago and has mentored divers such as Athens Olympics silver medallist Mathew Helm, was delighted with the success.

"They've done me very proud I can say, as a coach."

There will be little chance to rest on their laurels - from Friday to Sunday the divers will be at Olympic Park for a NSW Country training camp.