KARI and Jayden Gulson were on two separate paths when it came to playing hockey.
Kari, 21, continued to play for the pure enjoyment of the sport, taking the opportunities as they came while 20-year-old Jayden was like most people — he wanted to represent his country at the highest level possible.
But regardless of their reasons for playing, both will be representing Victoria at Townsville in August for the 2017 Country Australian Hockey Championships.
Jayden was selected in the men’s hockey team for a third year and had redemption in his sights following a disappointing run at Darwin in 2016.
‘‘Last year we fell apart,’’ he said.
‘‘It was a good tournament, but the majority of our games ended in draws and we couldn’t get the points to go well.’’
The men’s team finished second last overall, but had a largely different side this year with more than half of the 16-man squad new faces.
Seven of whom were younger than 20, including 19-year-old Echuca-Moama Hockey Club player James Thomson.
Thomson had grown up playing soccer with Jayden and the two are driving to Townsville together on August 7 ahead of the team’s training session on August 9.
They will have two days of training to adapt to the climate before the tournament began on August 11.
‘‘We really struggled in getting a side together this year,’’ Jayden said.
‘‘On the day nominations closed there were 12 players nominated, which we eventually got up to 20.
‘‘The squad is still incredibly talented, and a lot of the guys have been playing at a high standard for a while.
‘‘Hopefully James and I can both make it into selection into the Australian country side this year.’’
Jayden was selected in the Australian country men’s under-21 side last year, and even got the call-up as captain.
He said he didn’t see himself as a leader, but was happy to lend advice to the younger players as one of the more experienced members.
For some time, there was doubt whether he would play the tournament after a broken finger earlier in the season stopped him playing for his Victoria League one side Ballarat and Echuca-Moama.
‘‘It’s healing properly at this stage and I should be fine to play,’’ he said.
‘‘We’ll have had three training sessions before heading up with the Victorian team and I’ll be able to see how it goes before we start.’’
Both Kari and Jayden agreed representing their country and state had given them some of the best experiences you could have a hockey player.
‘‘The championships are about meeting new people and developing your skills,’’ Kari said.
‘‘OUR women’s side finished third last year, and this year we’ve all agreed it’s about enjoying our time away together.’’’
This year’s squad had trained together on three occasions, in Bendigo, Shepparton and Geelong, and there were only three new players from the previous year. Kari played for the women’s team in 2016 and from there was chosen in the under 23 development squad to play for Australia and tour Malaysia.
But she didn’t have any drive to pursue a hockey career and instead simply took the opportunities as they came.
Her focus was on playing for the Central Victorian Blazers women’s team in Victoria League one as well as with Echuca-Moama A women and soccer with the Moama Echuca Border Raiders.
‘‘It’s hard juggling all the teams and work, especially when your dad is the coach of one (Blazers) and your mum is the coach of another (A women),’’ she said.
‘‘But without their support I probably wouldn’t have gone as far as I have or taken as many opportunities.
‘‘They were always telling us to push our hockey as far as we could and it’s given us the most amazing experiences because of that.’’
Kari was taking the year off sport next year to focus on work and travel.
While at the championships Victoria will play teams from South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales and the Australian Defence Force (ADF).
The tournament included five days of match play, two rest days and finals to be played August 18-19.
The nominated players were selected into the squads by coaches and assistants from the senior country week earlier in the year at Geelong.