Young Hiruni Heshani – Netball star in the making

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With the motto of ‘Glory to God alone’, Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala was established on 8 September 1870. Even though this Catholic girls’ school has a rich history of 150 years, the school did not have any remarkable sporting achievements under its name. 2008 was the year that brought them fame via the game of Netball. Since then, for 13 long years, the girls’ have been winning the Milo Schools Netball Championship. Every year they would qualify for the finals of each age group, and walk away with the champion’s trophy. 12 consecutive years, undisputed champions! Period. The credit for teaching Netball, molding the girls, and motivating them should go to their dedicated coach, Amalka Gunathilaka

With the participation of six South Asian nations – Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka – the very first South Asian Under-16 Netball tournament was held from 18 to 22 October 2019 in Nepal.

The girls’ led by Nethmi Wijenayake emerged champions beating India 42 -28 in the final. What’s more beautiful about this victory is that the girls were unbeaten throughout the tournament. The first quarter ended 8 -8, but the Lankan lasses were too good for the Indians and won the next three quarters rather comfortably 16-4, 11-8 and 8-7 to clinch the title.

The semi-final was against Nepal and the girls eased to victory 52-15. In the first round the girls beat Nepal 52-16, Maldives 16-6, Pakistan 68-6, India 39-24 and showed their dominance.

Born on 9 January 2004 to ADDPK Atapattu and PHR Kumara in Kurunegala, Hiruni was the little sister to Nipuni Kavindya. From grade one Hiruni attended Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala and was loyal to her alma mater. The teenager will be sitting for her A/Ls this year.

HFC Kurunegala has a rich and successful netball history, and it was no surprise when Hiruni fell in love with the game. She was 11 years in 2015 when she decided to take up the sport seriously. From then on, she learned the basics of the game from dedicated coach Amalka, and fully concentrated her energies only on netball, without letting any other sport come in between, but Hiruni would also play basketball during the school sports meet.

From under-13 level in 2015, she was an important member of the HFC team. In the all-island Milo netball 2015 tournament, the under-13 team qualified for the last 16, and in 2016 for the final eight. By 2018 she was playing in the under-15 team that emerged champions, and in the under-16 All-island school games they were the first runner-up. In 2019 it was the other way around. In the under-17 All island Milo netball tournament she was an important member of the team that emerged 1st runner-up and champions in the All-island school games.

After her impressive performances in the school circuit, she was selected to represent Sri Lanka in the first ever Under-16 South Asian Netball tournament and was made the vice-captain of the team. Sri Lankan played their first match against India and won 40-24. For her impressive goal shooting Hiruni was named best player of the match.

Hiruni displayed her talent and skills in the tournament and showed glimpses of a great shooter in the making. This was evident when she walked away with the best shooter award by scoring over 150 points. Wonderful achievement by the teenagers as they won the tournament being undefeated. The six girls in turn were adjudged the best player in the six games they played. Hiruni won the best player award in one match and was the highest point scorer in the tournament.

“It was indeed a wonderful experience for me, playing in an international tournament for the first time and winning the best player award in the opening match and scoring most points than any other player. It made me so happy and proud. My School. HFC, Kurunegala has been winning the Milo netball championship for 12 consecutive years and happy to be a part of the team for a few years.” Hiruni expressed her feelings in performing well at the first Under-16 South Asian netball tournament.

Hiruni has been able to balance her schoolwork and netball to perfection, and her family have been a pillar of strength, backing her every time she fell and motivating her to be a better player.

After the South Asian netball tournament, she continued to improve. HFC became the 1st runner-up at the 33rd National Youth Sports Festival and 4th at the Dialog National Netball Championship. Her performances were highly appreciated by the school and she was made the deputy games captain prefect 2021/2. In the super 16 Schools netball championship she was given the responsibility of leading the team.

Making a restart after the covid pandemic, the 2022 Milo Super 16 Schools Netball Championship was held in June, and it was once again HFC that won the championship with Museaus College finishing as runner-up and Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya taking 3rd place. Hiruni not only successfully captained the team, but also won the award for the most outstanding player of the tournament.

“My Parents never put any pressure or forced me to do anything. They have always been backing me and I was given the freedom to engage in both studies and sports. I have been able to balance both equally and give equal importance to both. My sister also played chess at school, but she did not continue further.” Hiruni spoke about the support she received from her parents.

Be it a student, an adult, a working professional, or a retired person, sport adds value to everyone and plays a pivotal role in one’s life. “I became a girl who could accept any challenge, successfully face them and overcome them because of my involvement in sports from my younger days. Teamwork is one of the main traits I learnt because of the sport. Identifying that people are different is essential and sports also helped me to develop my game and personality.

“A special thank you goes to Amalka and Ananda Wannithilaka who spotted my talent and supported me, dedicating their time for us [the netball team], and under their guidance we have achieved many victories and made our school proud. I would also like to thank my team members; they are so supportive. I think our team spirit is also a reason for these victories. Further, my thanks go to the principal of my school, Rev. Sister Priyangani, and all the teachers, old girls, and friends who have supported and motivated all of us. There were a lot of support from the parents of my team members who have dedicated their time for us, and every time they were behind us to help in times of need.

“For about two years there were no sports tournaments because of the covid-19 pandemic and there were fewer opportunities to spot talented players. So, my special thank goes to Nestle Lanka and School Netball Association who conducted the All-island Schools Super 16 Netball Championship under the guidance of the Education Department. It was a great opportunity for us to be part of this tournament and to win the Milo trophy.” Hiruni did not forget to thank everyone who helped her.

By Vimukth Adithya