Young trio jumping into national title contention

NERVES are starting to kick in for athletes Ashley Ovens and Ashlea Bylsma.

They say this is normal a couple of days out from a big meet.

Both are well versed on the national stage and are keen to impress in Sydney this week for the Australian Junior Athletic Championships.

Ovens, a triple jump specialist, says his confidence has improved greatly under coach Paul Cleary in the past couple of years.

The 18-year-old has overcome a niggling ankle injury to be in top form for the championships, despite only using the full run-up once in competition this season.

“When you see a few good results, it helps. If I jump well, I hope to be in for a medal,” Ovens said.

“All I is ask is to go up there and jump my best.”

Ovens, from Cobram, has relocated to Geelong for university and travels to Ballarat’s Llanberris Reserve twice a week for training with Cleary.

He trains solo in Geelong during the week on the track and in the gym while combining study and part-time work.

Bylsma, 16, is a long-time member of the Cleary stable and finished runner-up in her long jump division last year.

This time, the Damascus College student is bumped up a division to under-17s.

“It’s nerve-wracking (to compete at nationals) but also good fun seeing a lot of people your age representing their states,” Bylsma said.

Cleary said both were hard workers with a lot of talent and would return to junior nationals a bit stronger and a bit faster this season.

The Cleary stable will also sport 14-year-old high jumper Brad Castleman in nationals action.

Castleman finished fourth on countback in the Australian All-Schools track and field meet in December. A countback almost cost him a Victorian title too, only he was second to an invitational

rival.

“He’s taken that on board and realises now, that if you’re going to jump, make the jump the first time,” Cleary said.

Castleman has been training hard and was excited to get to Sydney.

“They always feel a really professional kind of event,” Castleman said.

“You get nervous.”

The Cleary-trained trio are among a strong Ballarat contingent to compete at the junior nationals, which start on Wednesday.

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