The pool of opportunities confronting Sarah-Kate Birkett are exciting, if not endless, thanks to aquatic pursuits that have offered her a glimpse into the world of swimming and triathlon.

Birkett returned with seven medals from the division-two swimming championship in Rotorua last month - six golds in the 200m , 800m freestyle; 50m, 100m, 200m butterfly; 400m individual medley; and a bronze in 400m freestyle.

No points for guessing then what her favourite discipline is in triathlon - but she treats the cycling and running segments with equal dedication.

"I'm doing swimming because it's one of my favourite sports and I love it," says Birkett who also qualified for the first time at the nationals in Wellington where she "didn't go so well" but eager to emulate next year.

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She relished the experience but appreciates she'll need to intensify her training to get on the podium at that level.

The 14-year-old, who was the female runner-up at the Hawke's Bay junior triathlon last year but won that grade last month, underwent a baptism of the code through the Weet-Bix Kids Triathlon.

"It grew as I did it when mum went to the worlds when I was younger," says the Year 10 Havelock North High School pupil of mother Lisa Birkett, a part-time nurse who has competed in triathlons at an elite level.

Her Gisborne-born mum and father John, of Wellington, encouraged Birkett and her brothers to swim from a young age.

"She got me started and I have never been frightened of the water and just loved it," says the teenager.

The Napier Aquahawks Swim Club member for more than three years took tuition mostly from former coach Noel Hardgrave-Booth although she's excited by the prospect of honing her skills under new mentor Phil Melhuish, of Wales, who arrived here with wife Deb early last month.

While she isn't wanting to look too far ahead, Birkett feels "it'll be cool" to follow in her mother's footsteps to accomplish incrementally at higher levels over the years.
For the record, fellow Havelock North High pupil Will Tidswell, 14, won the junior boys' equivalent.

SOFTBALL:

Versatile Lindisfarne College utility Ashton Guy and Napier Boys' High School catcher Rakai Henare were members of the International Softball Academy under-14 team which won the Junior International Challenge tournament in Sydney last week.

The team, which was coached by former Softball New Zealand CEO Hadyn Smith and former Black Sox player Brian Mountford, recorded four wins and two draws. Henare and Guy both played for the Hawke's Bay under-15 team which recorded a top-five finish at their Gisborne-hosted North Island under-15 tournament in January.

The Sydney tournament was played at the Blacktown Olympic Centre.

"The tour was an awesome experience. We all learnt so much about ourselves as softball players and the quality of opposition meant that we had to be on top of our game each time we stepped out," Guy said.

The Fast Pitch club player had stints in the outfield and at second and third base. Maraenui Pumas player Henare, who played for the Poneke Kilbirnie club in Wellington before moving to the Bay, gained tournament team selection.

"Both Ashton and Rakai have big futures in the game," ISA director and Softball Hawke's Bay life member Craig Waterhouse said.

Team record at tourney:

Day 1: drew 5-all with ACT, bt Metro Green 5-3, bt Japan Victory 3-1.

Day 2: drew 3-all with Metro Orange, bt Japan Phoenix 9-3, bt Country Gold 4-0.