Small club, Big Result At State Champs

Lilly Bennett’s first state gold medal in the U15 flag final at the NSW Surf Life Saving Championships held at the NSW Central Coast left her grandfather in tears and was a sweet reward at the end of a seven hour drive from Narooma to take on the state's finest.

Sunday was tough for the Far South Coast beach athlete and the other finalists, cold strong southerly winds blowing straight onto the competition area at Umina beach where the three-day Open title played out.

The field whittled down to Bennett and Jasmine Yew from Thirroul both vying for the one remaining flag and the gold medal. Yew had recovered from an injury early in the final but Bennett’s speed and technique proved too strong. “It feels good,” Bennett admitted minutes after being declared state champion.

The largest Sydney club fielded 133 competitors. Narooma Surf Life Saving Club sent two athletes plus boaties making up contingent of 12. There’s no professionally devised coaching programs luring the sport’s best where Bennett trains, just her and her dad Justin.

Granted as last year’s Masters sprint and flag state and Aussie champion and former world silver medallist, he’s no ordinary dad.

“Dad gives me inspiration, he’s always been good with his sports. He drives me everywhere, I really appreciate it,” said a grateful Lilly, a year 9 student at Narooma High School who is all-rounder and in particular a keen football player.

The pair seem more like friends than father and daughter, fishing and diving two more activities they share. Mum wasn’t at the Carnival and heard the news by phone minutes after the win. Lilly’s grandparents, who also live in Narooma and have followed her in surf life saving since she was little, happened to be at a reunion two and a half hours north of Umina on the Saturday night and made the journey back to the Central Coast on Sunday.

Media duties over Lilly made her way across the competition arena to the beaming couple for a hug.

It was a big carnival for this talented youngster who also claimed a bronze medal in the U15 beach Sprint on Saturday.

Long-term Bennett wants to see how far she can go in the sport. More immediately she has to decide whether to compete at next month’s season closer, Aussies at Kirra Beach in Queensland. Narooma’s other competitor Joseph Halsey will also return home with a medal in his luggage after he won bronze in the U19 2km Run, and finished as a finalist in the Beach Sprint.

Fellow Far South Coast Branch club Moruya claimed bronze in the Male Open Surf Boat Race behind Bulli and Austinmer, while Broulee Surfers U19 Male Surf Boat team took the silver medal in a highly competitive field.

“Congratulations to Newport for taking out the club point-score. We’ve had a great three days of competition here at Ocean Beach-Umina who have once again been wonderful hosts,” NSW Surf Life Saving Sports Manager Shane Knight said following the championships.

“The standard of competition has been extremely high and it was a fitting celebration to honour the centenary of the founding of surf sports.”

Photograph: Narooma's Lilly Bennett moments after claiming gold in the U15 Flags at the 2015 NSW Surf Life Saving Championships.

Credit: Jamie Nilsson/SLSNSW

Thu 19 Mar 2015