THE GREEN & GOLD DREAM……….

The Green and Gold dream, for some, begins at an early age……..

A curly-haired youngster, pedals furiously  and pushes his slender body to the limit, racking up lap after lap of the Showgrounds cycle track. His ambition is to one day achieve Olympic glory.

That magic moment comes for Dean Woods at Los Angeles in 1984, as he shares in Australia’s Teams Pursuit Gold Medal triumph.

For Glenn Clarke, it began when he scraped together enough money from his paper-round to buy his first bike. He turned down the handle-bars and started competing at the age of 13. Years later, he is selected to contest the Points Score event at the ’84 Olympics.

To access professional coaching, Belinda Hocking’s parents drove her to Albury twice daily. She had been an up-and-comer at the Wangaratta Swimming Club. Soon she was offered a position at the AIS and moved to Canberra.

So pronounced was her development  that she swam her way into the Beijing Olympics. A world-champion backstroker, she is now gearing up for the Rio Games.

Ben Derrick was raised in a family skiing environment. He was inspired by the memory of his uncle Charlie, an outstanding skier, who perished near Mt.Hotham in treacherous conditions, in 1965.

Ben’s first national title came in 1968 and he went on to be a member of the Australian skiing team for 14 years.

Brad Lamb grew up within walking distance of the sand-scrape course which circumvents the Tarrawingee football ground. At the age of 9 he started belting balls around the course.

He competed for years in the cut-throat  global pro circuit, and along the way, represented Australia at the world’s premier amateur teams event, the Eisenhower Cup.

Deanne Butler, Hannah Zavecz and Heather Oliver shaped their dreams in the helter-skelter of Wangaratta’s junior basketball program.

It took extraordinary devotion and plenty of sacrifice for them to negotiate the journey from the Barr Stadium and strut their stuff at international level.

This is their story ………..

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DEANNE BUTLER first came to prominence when she started playing for the Wangaratta Warriors and turning out for Kilsyth Cobras in junior ranks. It enthused her so much that she knew the round-ball game was her calling.

She represented Victorian Country in three national Under-age championships. In the last – as the Under-18 captain – Deanne crossed paths with Albury’s Lauren Jackson (already destined for greatness), in matches against NSW Country.

Even then, Butler’s maturity was evident, as she explained her on-court role:

“I lead and control the play, and make sure everyone does what they’re supposed to do; make decisions and keep the emotions under control. It’s a lot of pressure, but I like it,” she said.

Deanne’s big break came in 1998 when she qualified for an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship, and played for their WNBL side. She was just 17 and had impressed those in the know with her performances as a point-guard.

The timing of her arrival was impeccable, as the AIS took out the WNBL title in her first year.

Butler progressed steadily. After two seasons with Dandenong Rangers, she moved to Bulleen Boomers. Voted the Under- 23 Australian Youth Player of the Year in 2003, she grasped the opportunity to play in Europe, firstly with Spanish club Ollis Solloer, then Italy’s Famila Schio.

In her time with the Italian club, she was part of their European Cup-winning team.

Deanne realised her greatest dream in 2005 when she was selected in the Australian Opals team which contested the Oceania Championships.

It was a tribute to her work ethic and discipline that she was able to fit in a hectic basketball schedule with a full-time job in the Police Force, which she joined at the age of 19.

“When I was playing in the WNBL, I would work night-shifts so I could play at week-ends. My time-management skills really developed,” she recalled a few years ago.

Deanne retired in 2011, after playing 251 WNBL games with five clubs, over 13 seasons. As a tribute to her contribution to the sport she was awarded Life Membership of the WNBL.

She was inducted to the prestigious Victoria Police Sporting Hall of Fame in 2013.

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HANNAH ZAVECZ also captained Victoria Country in Under-Age basketball. The  Bulleen Boomers lured her and she capped a fine junior career by sharing in Vic Country’s Gold Medal triumph at the Under-20 national titles in 2003.

Playing mainly as a guard and tall forward, the 183cm Zavecz  followed in Butler’s footsteps  when she gained an AIS scholarship and began playing in the WNBL.

Many people were surprised when she took up a scholarship at the University of Wyoming, upon graduating from the AIS. But, in a brilliant four-year stint with the Cowgirls, marked by a number of individual accolades, Hannah became renowned as one of the competition’s stars.

There were plenty of claimants for her signature when she returned to Australia, but Hannah decided to throw in her lot with Bendigo Spirit, where she was united with Deanne Butler. Her next career-move proved fortuitous, as she re-joined her old club, Bulleen and helped them to the 2010/11 WNBL crown.

Hannah was on the cusp of national selection and joined the Opals on an overseas tour, but her big moment came in a three-test series against China, in Queensland in 2011.

In the dying stages of the first ‘Test’, with the game in the balance, it was Zavecz who made a telling contribution and saw the Aussies’ home to a 73-67 win.

She wore the Green and Gold in qualifying matches against New Zealand, but was squeezed out of the squad for the London Olympics.

Having already savoured the experience of playing in Europe, Hannah softened the disappointment of missing Olympic selection by returning for another season with Hungarian club Uniqua Sopron.

Her last few seasons were spent with Queensland club Logan Thunder, and the Canberra Capitals. She combined her time with the ‘Caps’ by completing a Degree in Nutrition.

But the last 18 months of her WNBL career were marred by injury, as she battled knee problems and underwent an ankle reconstruction.

Hannah has spent this season, with SEABL club Numawading Spectres.

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HEATHER OLIVER began playing basketball at the age of 7 with local Club, Hustlers, where she came under the influence of Leanne Collihole, a dedicated coach and family friend.

“I had the basics when I first started, but Leanne helped to develop my game and take it to the next level,” Heather reflected earlier this year. “She had me on the running track most summers. I trained with some guys along the way and Leanne kept urging them not to take it easy on me.”

At 15 she began the six-hour trip, twice weekly, to train and play with Nunawading Spectres. In time she came under the notice of the national talent-spotters, who drafted her into the Australian Under-21 team for the 2007 World Championships in Russia.

The 5’10” guard excelled and was part of all 8 games at the world’s, culminating in the Gold Medal match, which the Sapphires lost to the United States.

Her shut-down role in the tournament earned her rave reviews and probably assisted  her application for a scholarship to the University of Southern California, where she became a regular in their starting line-up.

Armed with a degree in Psychology, Heather returned home and joined Bendigo Spirit. She played two seasons with them, took a year off to recover from the lingering effects of glandular fever, then made a successful comeback in 2014.

She played a major role in the Spirit’s march to the WNBL title and has continued to be a key figure in their line-up. During the 2015/16 season she passed the 100-game milestone with the Spirit.

In 2015, the former Wangaratta Rovers product was recruited to play netball with Sandhurst and took out the Bendigo FNL A-Grade Medal, after an outstanding season……

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The hordes of kids who converge on the Barr Reserve’s YMCA stadium on most week-nights, undoubtedly harbour the same dreams that swept three youngsters onto the international stage.

It’s a matter of hard work – and good fortune – as to whether they can go all the way, to eventually adorn the Green and Gold……..

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