Shepparton swimmers are being snapped up by metropolitan clubs and local coach Willy O'Callaghan is concerned they can no longer compete at Country Championships.By Marc McGowan
Just five Shepparton swimmers will contest this week’s Victorian Age Swimming Championships as coach Willy O’Callaghan fights to keep her star pupils.
National-level backstroker Hayley Hogan is the latest Shepparton-developed talent to join a Melbourne club.
Hogan joins fellow former Shepparton swimmer Kadison Michel at Nunawading, while Connie McClelland crossed to MLC Aquatic.
All three swimmers reached the Australian Age Championships while swimming for Shepparton, but will compete for Melbourne-based clubs at this week’s state championships.
O’Callaghan’s biggest disappointment is the trio can no longer swim for Shepparton at the Victorian Country Championships — the annual meet that highlights the strength of regional clubs.
Hogan, Michel — whose brother Indiana still swims for Shepparton — and McClelland live in Shepparton.
‘‘They’re going to the city clubs to further their careers,’’ O’Callaghan said.
‘‘But they had a situation at Countrys where one of the Traralgon boys, who nearly made the Olympics, had an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship and was still able to swim for Traralgon.
‘‘If (Hogan, Michel and McClelland) had an AIS scholarship they could still swim at Shepparton.
‘‘He got a lot of points for Traralgon under that system and that’s set a dangerous precedent.’’
Ex-Benalla swimmer Belinda Hocking, an Olympian and AIS scholarship-holder, also benefits from the system and is able to compete for Albury at the Victorian Country Championships.
O’Callaghan said Bendigo Swimming Club recently had two male swimmers transfer to Melbourne clubs.
‘‘They’re feeling like us about it,’’ she said of Bendigo.
‘‘These kids, if they want to, should still be able to swim for their country club at Country Championships, particularly when they’ve developed their national-level swimming in our club.’’
O’Callaghan said Shepparton club delegates had to raise the issue at a Goulburn Valley District Swimming Association meeting and receive approval to take the fight to Swimming Victoria.
Her hope is SV executives will grant swimmers who still reside in their country town the chance to compete for their old club as ‘‘second claim’’ athletes.
That would enable country swimmers’ city clubs to still have first preference if they had a major meet, but O’Callaghan said no Melbourne competition clashed with next month’s Country Championships.
Shepparton’s five Victorian Age Swimming Championships competitors are Jorja Bourke, Georgia Anker and the Swift brothers — Carter, Brennan and Kalen.
‘‘They will certainly be trying to make finals, but it’s not as definite as some of the other kids we had,’’ O’Callaghan said.
‘‘It’s been a pretty difficult year. We got out here (in the long-course pool at Aquamoves) pretty late and the kids only just started getting used to the longer pool last week.
‘‘We should be in for some PBs right across the board.’’
The Victorian Age Championships begins today and goes until Sunday.
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