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Amalka, Ananda guiding lights of country’s netball stronghold

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Amalka Gunathilaka and Ananda Wannithilaka have been providing a yeoman service to country’s netball propelling Holy Family Convent Kurunegala to become the schools netball stronghold.(File Pix by Nishan S. Priyantha)

When satisfaction is the only reward for commitment

by Reemus Fernando

No school in the country has dominated schools netball like the way teams of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala have done during the last one and half decades. The name of Holy Family Convent, Kurunegala has been so synonymous with the All Island Schools Netball Championships and the Milo Schools Championship titles to such an extent that one cannot remember a single year when they had settled for a trophy lower than the runner up title during the last decade.

Schools like Kalutara Balika, Musaeus, Girls High School, Kandy have challenged them to win age category titles but when it comes to overall championships, there had hardly been another contender. Like the trophies to the souvenir cupboard of the girls’ school of Kurunegala, there had also been a steady supply of talent to the youth national and national teams from this school during the last decade.

However the netball dominance HFC is experiencing today is a far cry from the early 2000s. HFC were not even a formidable force at Provincial level when Amalka Gunathilaka commenced training the youngsters.

Maliyadeva Balika and Kalutara Balika were the only schools to have won championship titles until HFC emerged as a force to be reckoned in the field of netball under her stewardship.

HFC became the Under-12 Milo Schools Netball champions in 2005, a year after she joined the school as a PTI. From then on the school went from strength to strength.

Few years after Gunathilaka took coaching reigns, HFC became unbeatable at almost all age category competitions at national level.

Certainly it was not the regular working hours of a PTI that propelled the school to be crowned as Sri Lanka’s netball queens.

“I would come early in the morning to commence training. Then I attend to regular teaching. When I leave the school after training it is very late in the afternoon. When competitions are around the corner I leave the school very late,” says Amalka whose commitment and contribution to netball in the country is yet to receive due recognition.

Beside Amalka her husband Ananda Wannithilaka, the former national volleyball player and coach provides much needed guidance in strength and conditioning to the team. The commitment of this husband and wife duo has gone a long way in HFC becoming the netball stronghold of the country.

However despite helping the team produce remarkable feats, Amalka is yet to be given a proper national job which she craved for years.

“First when I applied for the coaching job in 2011 I was told that I could not get it since my daughter was in the squad. Then I applied in 2013, 2015 and 2018. They would cite different reasons. And would select someone who has only paper qualifications but has never had performances to produce. I always had performances. I am a qualified coach. I did the advance course as well. I was informed that I had passed it. But I am yet to receive the certificate from the federation,” says Amalka.

While Dulangi Wannithilaka (her daughter), Rathna Victoria and Methma Jayaratne are some of her products who excelled at senior level, there are numerous others from Sajini Ratnayake, Sethmi Danoshi, Suseema Kumari, Nelumi Hapuarachchi to Nirmani Perera, who had donned the junior national jersey for Sri Lanka.

She got a couple of rare breaks when she was selected to accompany the team to World Youth Cup in Gaborone, Botswana in 2017 as assistant coach to Janaki Gunasekara and was named coach of the Under-16 team last year for the inaugural Under-16 South Asian Netball Championship in Nepal where she spent her own funds to function as the coach. Sri Lanka won the championship comfortably.

Amalka believes that the entire selection process not only of coaches but also of players needs to be overhauled with provincial level selectors making available the outstation talent for national consideration.

With the sport suffering a huge setback due to the Covid-19 pandemic and training at junior level in disarray, Amalka is interested in the junior national coaching job which she once cherished so much.

“At the moment I very much cherish what I do. I am content that I and my husband were able to make our contribution to netball. Each year the players we produce are ranked among the best at junior level. Netball has become an added advantage for those who join private sector firms after leaving school and those who seek higher education. We gain immense satisfaction when we see them succeed in different walks of life.”



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Sri Lanka men’s and women’s teams ready to contest FIBA Asia Tournament

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by a Special Sports Correspondent

The Sri Lanka Men’s and Women’s basketball teams took flight to Singapore on Tuesday for the FIBA Asia 3×3 Basketball tournament.

The two teams have been in preparation since April and are being coached by Ajith Kuruppu.

The men’s team has to first prove its worth against China and Tonga and one more team before qualifying for the main tournament. “It’s going to be a tough tournament, but the men’s and women’s teams have been practicing well. Our preparations were good and we want to make an impact at the tournament,” said Kuruppu. According to the Sri Lanka teams’ coach China will be a tough challenge in the men’s segment of the tournament.

“We’ve been gelling together as a team during training and the players have a good understanding when playing as a unit,” said Sri Lanka’s Mens’ Team skipper Shehan Fernando.

Sri Lanka’s women’s team has made a direct entry into the tournament. Sri Lanka Women’s team skipper Anjali Ekanayake said that the ranking of the players in the national 3×3 team is good. “These players have got much exposure playing in this format of the game. We’ve been focusing on nutrition and shooting over the past few months. Training went well for the tournament,” said Ekanayake.

Coach Kuruppu took this opportunity to thank Vaaj Fitness for sponsoring the two national teams to Singapore and for making their gym available for the players to do strength and conditioning training.

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Chathurya, Dinara, Saajida, Vishmi advance to second round

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ITF Junior Tennis Week 2 Tournament

Chathurya Nilaweera ousted India’s Dhanush Varma to reach the second round of the ITF Junior Tennis Week 2 Tournament continued at the SSC Tennis Courts on Tuesday.

Nilaweera was the only player in the boys’ category from Sri Lanka to advance from the first round as he beat Varma 6-2, 6-0.

In the girls’ category Dinara de Silva, Saajida Razick and Vishmi Serasinghe reached the second round when they won their respective first round matches on Monday.

Dinara beat Yu Ching Wang of Taipei 6-3, 7-6(4) and Razick beat Indian Anushka Bhola 6-1, 6-1, while Serasinghe ousted Wei Chiao-Chen also from Taipei 6-1, 6-1.

In the other matches Dinethya Dharmarathe, Dahamna Methnadi, Nesangi Hemakumara, Vinethya Dharmarathne and Gehansa Metnadi conceded first round defeats.

In the boys’ category Vichinthya Nilaweera, Methwan Wijemanne, Abdul Bashit Cader, Thilina Dissanayake and Zahid Zihar were eliminated in the first round.

The boys’ and girls’ second round matches will be played today.

The tournament which commenced on July 4 will culminate on Friday.

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Sri Lanka add more spin options after first Test disaster

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Maheesh Theekshana and Dunith Wellalage are likely to make their Test debuts in the series-deciding second Test in Galle.

by Rex Clementine

Sri Lanka have taken some desperate measures leading up to the second Test against Australia in Galle by adding more spin options indicating that the team management and the selectors are willing to make wholesale changes after the pathetic performance in the first Test which they lost before lunch on day three.

Left-arm spinner Lasith Embuldeniya has been sent home after he failed to make an impact following the ten-wicket loss last week. In an inexperienced attack, the 25-year-old with 17 Test caps is the senior most bowler but he had got his lengths wrong in a game dominated by Australian spinners. Embuldeniya had struggled in Bangladesh as well and was dropped. Instead of letting him fight his way back, he was drafted into the first Test against Australia and it wasn’t surprising to see him failing to make an impact. Now with the series at stake, Sri Lanka have pressed the panic button.

Even if Dimuth Karunaratne’s side win the second Test, Australia will retain Warne-Murali Trophy since they are the holders having blanked Sri Lanka 2-0 in 2019.

Sri Lanka’s desperation is evident by the fact that they have recalled Maheesh Theekshana, who hasn’t played a First-Class game in four years. In fact, Army had been told not to consider Theekshana for the ongoing one-day competition to help him recover from niggles but suddenly he finds himself in the hot seat with a Test series at stake.

Uncapped Dunith Wellalage also has been added to the squad giving the left-arm spin option that has been taken away following the axing of Embuldeniya. Support left-arm spinner Praveen Jayawickrama had tested positive for COVID.

Former captain Angelo Mathews who was in isolation after testing positive for COVID has returned a negative test and has rejoined the team.

Off-spinner Lakshitha Manasinghe is the third player to be added to the group. He had an impressive series against Australia ‘A’ too. It is expected that Wellalage will make his Test debut while the slot for the third spinner is a toss-up between Jeffrey Vandersay and Maheesh Theekshana. The leg-spinner was untidy in the opening Test and the more realistic option seems to be that Theekshana debuting alongside Wellalage.

Although three replacement spinners have been added, some wonder why Sri Lanka have not thought of some batting replacements. It was a pathetic display by the team in the second innings where they were shot out inside a session and faced only 22.3 overs.

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