Spirit boasts four in Opals training squad

YOUNG gun Tessa Lavey is not part of Bendigo Spirit's powerful starting five, but she will be rubbing shoulders with the nation's best female players next month after being invited to an Australian Opals training camp.

The junior point guard is one of four Spirit players named in the 21-member squad as the Opals begin their journey towards the 2014 world championships in Turkey.

Lavey will join Bendigo talls Gabe Richards and Elyse Penaluna and fellow guard Kelly Wilson at the Canberra camp from January 12-15.

Her inclusion is something of a surprise, given the 20-year-old is averaging less than five minutes a game on the boards for Spirit this season.

But it follows her dominant performance throughout a recent tour of Hungary with an Australian development squad, led by Opals head coach Brendan Joyce.

"These things are always a surprise, because I am only young and there are a lot of talented players out there who missed out, while I have been given the opportunity," a humble Lavey said on Wednesday of her call-up to the national senior squad.

"It's not a surprise to not be playing a lot of minutes for Spirit though, because I'm behind Kristi (Harrower) and Kelly (Wilson) and they are two of the best point guards in the league.

"I was always expecting to sit on the bench, but they are great to learn from - and that's what I am doing."

Lavey took on a leadership role in Hungary, enjoying the chance to help her talented teenage team-mates and get to know coach Joyce.

"I was the oldest there - the grandma of the group - but it was an opportunity for me to show what I have been learning from both Kristi and Kelly," she said.

"I guess Brendan saw a bit in me over there and so has invited me to the camp."

Lavey said she hoped to make the final Opals team, but would take everything she could out of the experience.

"Everyone wants to go to camp and make the team," she said. "But for me, it's a chance to play and train against the best girls in Australia and learn from some of the best coaches."

Wilson retains her spot in the Opals training squad on the back of her strong performance in this year's Oceania Championship series against New Zealand, while Richards and Penaluna have been rewarded for strong performances with the Spirit this season.

All nine WNBL clubs are represented and there are several first-timers, including US-born Dandenong Rangers star Leilani Mitchell, who has an Australian mother.

The full squad for the January training camp is: Gabe Richards, Kelly Wilson, Elyse Penaluna, Tessa Lavey (Bendigo Spirit), Natalie Hurst, Abby Bishop, Carley Mijovic (Canberra Capitals), Leilani Mitchell, Alice Kunik, Lauren Scherf (Dandenong Rangers), Jenni Screen, Jess Foley, Laura Hodges (Adelaide Lightning), Tess Madgen, Rachel Jarry, Rebecca Allen (Melbourne Boomers), Hanna Zavecz (Logan Thunder), Mia Newley, Stephanie Cummings, (Townsville Fire) Katie-Rae Ebzery (Sydney Uni Flames) and Natalie Burton (West Coast Waves). 

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