The thought of the entire South Australian women’s team visiting the regional school was little more than a dream.
But on Thursday 26 August, Falconer signed in as a visitor to Clare High School, a returning student representing the SA Scorpions as a professional cricketer. And she was not alone. Waiting patiently for the pen were the rest of the squad, including coaching and support staff.
The Scorpions had made the 145km journey from Adelaide Oval to Clare that morning, with the High School their first stop on a three-day Connection Camp aimed at strengthening bonds between the players and the communities they represent.
Arriving just before the lunch bell broke the pristine country silence, the Scorpions gathered on the oval beneath a slowly warming sun in anticipation of meeting however many students were happy to spend their longest break of the day joining a cricket clinic and meeting some sporting heroes.
Possessing a cinematic sense of timing beyond their years, the girls waited just long enough for the amassed cricketers to begin worrying they would be left alone, before pouring excitedly onto the huge, grassed area behind the main school. More than 75 female students chose to meet the likes of Falconer and fellow country cricketing stars Tegan McPharlin and Darcie Brown during the biggest break of their school day, something that both amazed and inspired Falconer.
“I was actually speechless! I know Katie Liebelt and the staff at Clare High and the Clare Cricket Club have done great work to get girls into cricket, so to see the turnout of 75 girls was amazing and showed that all the work everyone has put in is paying off.
“The pathway now is polar opposite to when I went through school. There wasn’t really any knowledge about the women’s competition, or any push to get women or girls into playing cricket, whereas now there is a huge emphasis on getting girls into cricket.”
For Falconer, the chance to return to such a familiar place while bearing the South Australian Cricket Association logo on her sleeve was a wonderful experience. As someone who grew up playing in male teams, with very few female cricketing role models within reach, seeing the joy on the faces of the next generation is something that will never not be forgotten.
“I played all my club cricket with the local boys and men’s teams, and I was the only girl. St. Josephs Primary School, Clare High and the Clare Combined Cricket Club were always really inclusive and supportive of me playing, but I was always the only girl… I didn’t know any different and that’s just how it always was. Girls at school now have the opportunity to play in plenty of female specific programs and games which is so good to see.
“I didn’t even know that women’s cricket existed growing up, so seeing players in the flesh is really important. It gives the girls an opportunity to see that there is a pathway, and there is the possibility to make cricket your career. To have the entire team and support staff show up to the Clare High clinic was something I found special and a pretty awesome opportunity for those high school girls who participated!”
During their time in the Clare Valley, the Scorpions also held a highly competitive tennis tournament that showcased the determination ingrained in the squad to be the best at everything they do. When names were drawn from a hat to determine pairs for the knockout competition, the only requirement stipulated by most was that Josie Dooley and Courtney Webb, undoubtably the most skilled with racquets in hand, were not to be on the same team.
It was of course no surprise then that those names were pulled out consecutively, creating a partnership that remained undefeated on their way to glory, even by those arguably bending the laws of the game to breaking point with some innovative tactics.
The positive energy and near-constant laughter emanating from the tennis court perfectly encapsulates what the Connection Camp was all about. With the WNCL heavily affected by Covid-19 last season, and already facing a delayed start in 2021 for the same reasons, it is important that the tight-knit group stays together throughout the trials that are sure to present in the coming months.
As well as spending time at several local businesses, including the Magpie and Stump and Watervale Hotels, the squad took to the Riesling Trail where they met many wonderful locals against a stunning backdrop of green valleys, heritage buildings and growing friendships. While pedalling along the dirt tracks, Falconer was struck by thoughts of excitement and pride that her cricketing family were immersed in a place that is such a huge part of her life.
“It was pretty special to have the whole crew in Clare. It was nice for the girls to come and see the town where I grew up. I still consider Clare as my home so to let the girls finally see the spot I often speak about was really special.
“The Riesling trail ride was a real highlight. Riding to Watervale and back… stopping at wineries was a good opportunity for the Scorps’ girls to see the valley. To see the smiles on the girls and support staff’s faces, and to get to spend that time together was really nice.”
Scorpions Head Coach Luke Williams also reflects on the positive outcomes of the camp with a smile, clearly delighted to see the bonds the team are forming not only with each other, but with the South Australian community.
“To have the opportunity for our entire squad to visit the school and meet so many people was great. So many young girls came out to meet us and learn some cricket skills, it was really inspiring. We want to continue playing a big role in the growth of women’s sport and the huge turnout shows that we are on the right track.
“With the WNCL season quickly approaching, we wanted to get away as a group for a Connection Camp with a focus on team bonding in a relaxed, fun atmosphere. Clare Valley is such a beautiful place, and we were thrilled to be able to spend a few days connecting with the community. Last season we narrowly missed out on a chance to play in the Grand Final, and we’ll be using that motivation to go one better this season.”