ALMOST 500 junior hockey players, their coaches, parents and umpires will descend on Grafton from today for the under 13 girls NSW State Hockey Championships to be held over the weekend.
The action kicks off at the Grafton Hockey fields this afternoon with a Hockey NSW training session, which will give the travel weary visitors a chance to stretch their legs and test out our playing surfaces.
But a home turf advantage is not the only thing in the favour of Grafton's two sides this weekend.
Such is the depth of the junior hockey ranks in the Clarence Valley, that even though this is the first official state carnival many of the visitors will be playing in, a number of our girls are already old hands at the championships.
"The under 13 age group is the youngest for the official state carnivals," Grafton Blue coach Taine Mason said.
"My team, Grafton Blue, is predominately made up of younger girls who are playing above their age group in division three.
"It gives them valuable experience at representative level for later on."
Coach of the Grafton Red side, Kerry Barton, is the benefactor of that early ground-work and has a Division one side stacked with talented and experienced players.
"Samantha Duroux was selected in the state squad last year and is playing for us again this year, and we have four others who have already played at a state championships," Barton said.
"It really is due to the great depth we have in our playing ranks that we can field two teams at all, and we will also have a number of Grafton girls filling in for visiting squads who might be caught short.
"It is difficult to say how we'll go, as the teams change so much from year to year, but I think we could do quite well.
"Sometimes teams from down south can't handle the day-time heat, and playing on our home surface is also an advantage."