Lake Macquarie teenager Dakota Thomas has earned selection into the inaugural Swifts Academy netball program.
Having won silver with the NSW Waratahs in her debut Australian Netball League season this year, the 18-year-old from Kilaben Bay continues her rise to the elite level with selection in the talent program which aims to develop the next generation of NSW Swifts to play in the Super Netball league.
"Working with the Waratahs this year I gained a lot of experience," Thomas said.
"It was really good to be in that environment. This year gave me a lot of skills under my belt, even taking part in the trials for the Swifts academy was an experience.
"I was quite happy to be selected. I was hoping I could have another chance at having Lenore [Blades] as my coach so I am thankful to have been selected."
The purpose of the academy is to provide elite youngsters from around the state with another pathway to develop, while, at the same time, expanding the Swifts' pool of home-grown talent.
Under the stewardship of Blades, the 24 athletes in the program will benefit from up to three high-performance court sessions per week, three strength and conditioning sessions, and programs involving performance analysis, skill and movement mentoring, sports psychology and recovery.
Swifts general manager Nikki Horton said player depth had been a key factor in the Swifts winning the title this year.
"It is vital that we have depth in our pathways," Horton said.
"We saw how important players likes Sophie Halpin and Tayla Fraser [both named in the academy] were when injury struck. Having players of that ability able to come in and hit the ground running really helped deliver the Swifts' premiership victory this year.
"With this academy it puts us in a great position to build on our six premierships and keep the club at the forefront of elite club netball."
Thomas, a NSW Institute of Sport scholarship holder, said former Swifts captain Abbey McCulloch had been a valuable mentor to her this year, helping her transition from goal defence to wing defence for the Waratahs.
Thomas previously played for North Shore United in Sydney's premier league.