22 December 2023

Your 12 top sport stories from 2023

Start the conversation

From fencing and martial arts to football and tennis, the sporting options are endless in the Illawarra. Take a walk down memory lane with 12 of our most popular sports stories from 2023.

12. Beaton Park is serving up a regional tennis hub for stars of the future
by Jen White

Player about to serve a tennis ball while Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, Tennis NSW CEO Darren Simpson and Wollongong Deputy Mayor Tania Brown watch on.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, Tennis NSW CEO Darren Simpson and Wollongong Deputy Mayor Tania Brown take to the courts. Photos: Jen White.

Work has commenced on a $12 million upgrade of the Beaton Park tennis courts, which will deliver eight international standard courts.

This marks the first stage of an overall upgrade of the sporting precinct and will transform the 14 new courts (10 hard courts and four synthetic grass) into a regional tennis hub.

11. Wollongong cyclist thrilled with top-10 finish in tough Scottish cross-country marathon

Samara Sheppard covered in mud after finishing her cross-country marathon race.

Samara Sheppard celebrates her top-10 placing in the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships. Photo: SWPix.

Wollongong’s UCI Bike City ambassador Samara Sheppard is “thrilled” to have placed sixth in the gruelling Cycling World Championships cross-country marathon in Scotland.

Samara, 32, qualified for a spot on her native New Zealand team for the cycling championships with outstanding performances in Europe in August.

10. South Coast coup: Warilla-Barrack Point surf club to host country champs for next two years
by Katrina Condie

Life savers on beach

The NSW Surf Life Saving Country Championships is coming to Warilla-Barrack Point. Photo: SLSNSW.

The Warilla-Barrack Point Surf Life Saving Club will welcome competitors from across the state when the NSW Country Championships returns to the South Coast for the next two years.

After nearly a decade bouncing between beaches on the NSW North Coast, the Oakberry Acai NSW Surf Life Saving Country Championships will move to the home of the defending champions in 2024 and 2025.

9. Illawarra Hawks Under 14 girls swoop on basketball history with stunning national triumph
by Kellie O’Brien

girls' basketball game

The Illawarra Hawks Under 14 girls basketball team during the final against Kilsyth, which they defeated to claim the national crown. Photo: Supplied.

The Illawarra Hawks are the Under 14 girls national champions after an incredible, record-breaking run at the Australian titles in Melbourne.

The Illawarra side went undefeated throughout the tournament and beat arch rival, championship favourite and the previously undefeated Kilsyth in the final on 29 September.

8. Meet the trailblazers forging a path to a Paralympic debut
by Dione David

Four wheelchair fencers at NSW Fencing Academy

Penny Elliot-Fleming, Mel Boon, Sam Blade and Stephenie Rodriguez are among seven Aussie wheelchair fencers with their eyes on the prize. Photo: Alex Andre/NSW Fencing Academy.

“A new amputee with a head full of dreams” – the one-liner at the top of Mel Boon’s Instagram profile says it all.

The Illawarra woman thought she would never compete in sport again after her left leg was amputated following a biking accident and subsequent infection.

Now, less than a year after discovering wheelchair fencing – a sport woefully underrepresented in Australia – she’s part of a determined team of athletes who have set their sights on the Paralympics.

7. Illawarra martial artists fired up for friendly competition at Hong Kong’s Gay Games
by Eileen Mulligan

Zoe, Jye and Georgah with some of the medals they won at the Sydney World Pride Championships.

Zoe Anderson, Jye Gibson and Georgah Elchaar with some of their medal haul at the Sydney World Pride Championships. Photo: Nik Gibson.

Punching, kicking and immobilising someone with a joint lock – who would have thought these were ideal ways to make friends and influence people?

But that is what has happened for a team of “rainbow warriors” from Fire Phoenix Martial Arts in Corrimal.

This diverse group of martial artists blitzed the competition – in the nicest possible way – in February at the Sydney World Pride Championships, the friendliest and most supportive tournament they had entered.

6. Shellharbour’s superstar tennis export Ellen Perez powers towards Grand Slam success
by Keeli Royle

Shellharbour tennis star Ellen Perez as a young tennis player and her in Olympic gear for 2020 Tokyo.

Ellen Perez is chasing her dream to win a Grand Slam. Photo: Supplied/Australian Olympic Team

Ellen Perez’s dad used to bribe her with lollies to get her on the court, now two decades later the tennis star from Shellharbour has cracked a top-10 world ranking in doubles, and is eyeing off her first Grand Slam title.

5. Lifting the lid on the Illawarra’s not-so-underground fight clubs
by Zoe Cartwright

Rebecca Mauger in her happy place.

Rebecca Mauger in her happy place. Photo: Supplied.

The world knows the name of a concreter from Shellharbour now – Alexander Volkanovski shot to fame as featherweight champion in the UFC in 2019, and has successfully defended his title ever since.

Training out of a gym in Windang, it would be easy to write Volkanovski off as a one-in-a-million, a diamond in the rough whose natural talent would have shone through in any setting.

But it’s more likely he’s the first in a generation of Illawarra champions.

4. Hawks Under 14s boys basketball team rapping their way to nationals
by Kellie O’Brien

Coach Glen Saville will take the Illawarra Hawks Under 14 boys team to nationals

Coach Glen Saville (centre) will take the Illawarra Hawks Under 14 boys team to nationals in Melbourne in September. Photo: Supplied.

Every good sporting team needs an anthem, but the Illawarra Hawks Under 14 boys team have taken it a step further and made their own.

The team recruited celebrated Kiama singer-songwriter Shelley Harland, whose son plays on the team, to create and release a basketball anthem to help pump them up prior to taking to the court at nationals in Melbourne in September.

The song, released as a lyric video on YouTube, even features a cameo from the team’s coach and NBL legend Glen Saville.

3. Hockey One debut a dream come true for Illawarra young gun Miri Maroney
by Keeli Royle

Miri as a child, Miri in Pride uniform, Miri playing for UOW.

Twenty-one-year-old Miri Maroney is preparing for her NSW Pride debut as the Hockey One league kicks off. Photo: Supplied.

Following a grand final win and multiple sportsperson of the year awards, Miri Maroney is gearing up for her debut in the Hockey One league as part of the reigning champion NSW Pride team.

Miri’s first-time selection in the squad was an exciting step for the 21-year-old who used to idolise those playing at the same level when she was a child.

2. Basketball journey comes full circle for NBL legends and former Hawks teammates
by Kellie O’Brien

Glen Saville and Mat Campbell

Mat Campbell with daughter Sarah (left) and Glen Saville with son Riley (right) during their playing careers with the Hawks. Photo: Supplied.

NBL legends and former Illawarra Hawks teammates Glen Saville and Mat Campbell have seen their basketball journey come full circle as their children compete in the Under 14 nationals – the same competition the pair competed in in 1989.

Saville is head coach of the Hawks Under 14 boys team, while Campbell is assistant coach of the Hawks Under 14 girls, which will both compete in the Under 14 Club Championships in Melbourne from 24 September.

Saville’s son Riley and Campbell’s daughter Sarah are playing in the Under 14s teams, which is the only age group that has Australian club championships.

1. ‘Disgusting’: Junior Rugby League crushes girls’ hopes for their biggest match of the year
by Keeli Royle

Matilda Powell and Skye Spencer throwing a ball to each other at Corrimal.

Corrimal Cougars rugby league players Matilda Powell and Skye Spencer in action. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Less than a month after the Matildas smashed viewing records and the government promised hundreds of millions of dollars for women’s sport, grand finalists in the Illawarra Rugby League competition were dealt a devastating blow.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.