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Casey's already a big hit as Hockeyroos rebuild international reputation

Date: 13/08/2006
Words: 500
Source: SHD
          Publication: Sun Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 84
CASEY Eastham was seven when the Australian women's hockey team won Olympic gold in Atlanta.

Four years later, she sat in front of her television on the South Coast and watched the Hockeyroos make it back-to-back gold medals in Sydney.

Since then, life's been great for Eastham but not so great for the Hockeyroos. They have dropped to fourth in the world rankings, with gold in the 2003 Champions Trophy in Sydney their only genuine international win since 2000.

They won Commonwealth Games gold this year but have finished out of the medals at major events, losing regularly to the Netherlands, Argentina and Germany.

Eastham, 17, Sutherland's Kate Hollywood and West Australian Kobie McGurk lead the new breed of Hockeyroos seeking success at the Beijing Olympics.

Her first taste of top-level international hockey comes this week when Australia face the US, Argentina and the Netherlands in a US tournament in Virginia.

The debutante, who started playing hockey when she was five, is taking it in her stride. "When I was young, I had a few people say to me, 'I can see you one day playing for Australia' and I sort of said, 'Oh, OK'," she said. "But I'd never really thought about it too much."

While Eastham may have been earmarked for bigger things, her rise has come faster than she anticipated.

"I used to do athletics and play touch football as well," she said.

"I got into hockey through my family. Dad [Keith] and a couple of his brothers played and mum [Janette Hayes] made under-21 Australian squads. My first under-18s team, when I was 13 . . . that's when I decided I would stick with hockey."

Eastham made her debut with the NSW Arrows in the Australian Hockey League this year after competing with the Jillaroos at the Junior World Cup in Chile. A knee injury kept her out of the finals of her first full national open tournament two months ago but she'd done enough to convince Hockeyroos selectors she was ready for a green-and-gold kit.

"When I was selected for the Junior World Cup I thought, 'This is going really well and really quick and, hopefully, in the next few years I'll be able to make the Aussie team'," she said. "Then, the next year, I was in the squad. It's been pretty quick."

She names former Hockeyroos star Alyson Annan and Argentinian Luciana Aymar as her hockey heroes. "Their skill level and what they do when they have the ball is incredible."

Hockeyroos coach Frank Murray first saw Eastham play 12 months ago at an under-18 tournament - and liked what he saw.

"She took out the player of the tournament and, since then, I've had an eye on her progress," Murray said.

"She is a player with huge potential. She is an impressive person and not just as a hockey player. She has a real feel for the game, she has a natural understanding."

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