Diamonds in waiting star at AIS

16 Mar 2012

Meet the defenders taking the first steps to becoming the next batch of Diamonds to graduate from the Australian Institute of Sport.

Amehlia Schmidt and Gabrielle Simpson are only 19, but have already had a taste of the toughest club competition in the world with the Adelaide Thunderbirds and NSW Swifts respectively.

Schmidt has signed a 12-month contract with the Thunderbirds and will split her time between Canberra and Adelaide when the ANZ Championship starts on March 31.

Simpson filled in for injured Australian star Mo'onia Gerrard for the Swifts during a pre-season tournament in New Zealand recently, with Schmidt featuring in three games for the Thunderbirds.

Ironically, the Thunderbirds and the Swifts square off in the season-opener.

While the pair are at long odds to take to the court, learning off their heroes has been a buzz in itself.

''Mo'onia is my absolute idol,'' Simpson said.

''The fact I was replacing her seemed like a bit of a joke to me. It was absolutely amazing just to get that opportunity.''

The AIS has been the breeding ground for a host of Diamonds, including Natalie von Bertouch, Catherine Cox and Laura Geitz.

Schmidt and Simpson are on the right path to follow in the footsteps of their world championship-winning fore-bearers.

They were teammates in the Australian under 19s team last year and Simpson was also selected for the national under 21s side.

And after joining the AIS earlier this year, Schmidt said the benefits of living and breathing the game under head coach Julie Fitzgerald were already evident in her development.

''Julie's focused a lot on footwork and ballwork, which is really fundamental to the game,'' she said.

''The AIS is amazing, we've got so many facilities and people to help you.

''It's all training, training, training, but I'm not sick of it yet.''

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