Willow Grove is aiming to step up

All go at The Grove: Willow Grove Cricket Club president Josh Coombs, young gun Nathan Wheildon, secretary Jay van der Stoep and well-known local cricketer Peter Grima are working hard behind the scenes to see Willow Grove potentially field an A Grade side this season in the Latrobe Valley and District Cricket League. photograph liam durkin



FOR a speck of a town, Willow Grove has a thriving cricket club.
Last season they fielded two senior grades, three junior teams, a women’s side, and have an entry level program for beginners.
Willow Grove is now set to add a third senior team to its ranks, and all going well, will be playing A Grade in the Latrobe Valley and District Cricket League for season 2022/23.
While there are still a number of pins to fall, the Wolves are actively working to see a first grade team wearing the green and gold step back onto the field for the first time since the mid-1980s.
As it stands, the Willow Grove Cricket Club is intent on playing A Grade, but needs a further four to six players capable of performing at the level to warrant putting a side in.
So, the recruiting drive is on.
The Wolves have set a deadline for the end of July to make a final decision.
Those working behind the scenes in rationalising the feasibility of a Willow Grove A Grade are club president Josh Coombs, secretary Jay van der Stoep, young gun Nathan Wheildon and experienced local Peter Grima, who has enjoyed A Grade success at Moe and Mirboo North.
Coombs said the step up to A Grade offered an exciting prospect.
“We’re creating the full spectrum of the pathway for the juniors, that is the idea behind it,” he said.
“We’re not doing it just because we want to submit an A Grade, we are doing it for the development of our juniors and giving them the full range of cricket in the Latrobe Valley.
“We feel like we have the majority of the players, we just want to get that experience and knowledge of A Grade cricket to top up what we already have to help the players coming up from B Premier into an A Grade competition.”
Willow Grove has enjoyed recent premiership success in the Premier B division of the LVDCL, winning two flags in the last four seasons.
Coombs said the club now felt the time was right to go to the next level.
“We’ve been talking about it for the last couple of years,” he said.
“The idea has always been there. We have had a lot of pressure from outside but that hasn’t really determined whether we pulled the trigger or not. It’s just about when we are ready and at the moment we feel we are ready and we have a really good opportunity.”
Willow Grove is seeking a senior coach to help with the transition and to provide young players with the right guidance.
Should the Wolves make the move, there is sure to be a major adjustment period, as those accustomed to playing B Grade will need to learn things like how to approach two-day cricket.
Van der Stoep said the club had all this in mind, and was under no illusion that most of the Wolves’ initial foray into A Grade would simply be about testing the waters.
“We not only want to put our kids and talented young ones into a side but we want to be able to educate them, so we need the right people to be able to do that,” he said.
“We don’t want to go in there and get flogged. We want to be competitive, not necessarily to get into finals but being competitive is critical for us.
“We have some objectives set for minimums and maximums. Over the next couple of months we are going to be able to determine whether or not it (putting in A Grade) is going to go ahead.”
If Willow Grove does enter a first grade team, it will take the LVDCL A Grade division to six teams, thus eliminating the bye.
It will also cap off a remarkable rise for the club, the very same club that nearly shut up shop for good only a decade ago.
The Wolves were on their knees in the early 2010s.
Out of money and seemingly out of time, with only a third and fourth grade team representing them in the old Central Gippsland Cricket Association.
By all reports, players were turning up to games afraid they would have to bat twice in a one-dayer.
With the threat of extinction real, a dedicated group of volunteers banded together to bring the club out of the darkness and into the light.
Coombs paid tribute to all who had been involved in helping resurrect the club’s fortunes.
“It has been a long journey, it has been nine years since we decided to drop back to purely C Grade for the club,” he said.
“Since then we’ve developed our junior program to boost our senior program. We’ve gone from C Grade into B Grade and then come up with two senior sides. It has taken three or four years to develop each side.
“It took a lot of guts from the previous committee that took over to get the club to where it is. There was a mass-evacuation of the committee and people had to stand up. The likes of Brody Hams and Shane Paynter, a lot of the credit goes to them for turning the club around and the committee that has been involved since has carried that passion all the way through to now.”
In this day and age where small-town clubs are finding it harder and harder to survive, Willow Grove is proving that it can be done.
When asked if there was any secret, Coombs said it was mainly about fostering a club in the truest sense of the word, rather than making it simply a general assembly of people.
“I think just the environment, we are not after perfection,” he said.
“A massive goal for the club has been to create a home away from home. There is a bit of a refuge from anything else going on in everyday life, so you can still turn up to the cricket club and enjoy yourself. That outlet from normal everyday working life has been really key.
“Another thing that we have been passionate about is being a community club and not just a club in the community. Every function we host or celebration we have is an open invitation to the community. For a town of 400 we might get half of those coming in for a function rather than just the 80 players that we have.
“It is not just our win it is Willow Grove’s win.”
Any prospective players can get in touch with Coombs on 0429 792 598.