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Ten of the best in the fields of play

Roddy Mackenzie honours some of the most exciting Scottish athletes who are rising through the youth ranks of sport

American football Lee Collins (Lanark Grammar)

The 17-year-old made a big impact for his club, the Clyde Valley Hawks, last season and helped them to the British Youth American Football Association championship title in October.

Lee (whose father, Steve, played for the now defunct Glasgow Lions) is a member of the Great Britain junior squad and travelled with the team to the Netherlands in November as part of the build-up to next year's European Junior Championships. He currently plays as a tight end (part blocker, part receiver) for the British side but Scottish Claymores grassroots coach Jim Burns believes he will develop into a linebacker.

"He is 6ft 1in and over 200lbs and is now starting to look more athletic after being put on a weight training programme. He is certainly a great prospect," says Mr Burns. "All of the coaches who have worked with him, including the Americans, have been impressed."

Athletics Kim Skinner (Larbert High, Falkirk)

A talented all-round athlete, Kim, aged 15, made her mark last summer, winning the most meritorious performance award at the Scottish Schools Track and Field Championships when she set a Scottish under-17 age-group best by clearing 3.60m in the pole vault. She then set a British schools record for her age group of 3.70m at the British Schools Championships in Cardiff.

Kim, who is a member of the Falkirk Victoria Harriers and coached by Eamonn Fitzgerald, is also a promising hurdler and sprinter.

She started 2003 with a bronze medal for pole vault at the Scottish Senior Indoor Championships in Glasgow, clearing 3.50m, and was placed third in the Irish Indoor Championships in Belfast.

She started her outdoor season impressively by beating the under-17 East District Championship record in the pole vault, reaching 3.45m, 85cm higher than the previous best.

Football David Gray (Beeslack High, Midlothian)

Scotland's Under-16 striker, who is signed with Hearts but earmarked for Manchester United, was impressive last season, culminating in the centenary international against England at Hampden Park.

The 15-year-old is good with both his feet, and is strong in the air but his greatest asset is his pace and that will equip him well as he seeks to make his name in the professional game.

"David has all the attributes and a great attitude," says Scotland Under-16 coach Stewart Neilson. "Nothing is too much trouble for him. If you asked him to play centre-half, he'd gladly do it if it helped the team. He is a good team player and appreciates the value of everyone pulling in the same direction.

"So far he has done very well."

Hockey Joe Simpson (Lenzie Academy, East Dunbartonshire)

The 17-year-old centre forward with Glasgow Western has been attracting a lot of attention. Joe is a member of the Scotland Under-18 squad and good enough to be included in the Scotland Under-21 squad. The next two to three years promise to be important in his development.

"Joe has a hunger and desire to play and the raw talent to make a name for himself," says Scotland Under-21 coach David Stott.

"There is a shortage of out-and-out strikers coming through in the Scottish game but he has the potential to do really well. He is a very brave player and would not hesitate to dive in to try to win the ball when the odds were against him."

Rowing Kirsty Myles (George Watson's College, Edinburgh)

This year was a big year for Kirsty, who competed with the winning Great Britain junior team at the annual Coupe de la Jeunesse regatta - an event ranked second to the World Junior Championships - in Belgium in August. The 17-year-old won gold and silver medals in the double sculls, and hopes to race in the World Junior Championships in Spain this summer, depending on the size of the British team.

The usually single sculler missed the British National Schools Championships in May because it clashed with school exams but had made a great start to the season. She finished first in the Great Britain junior trials in Boston by a remarkable 17 seconds ahead of her nearest rival.

"Kirsty has had an exceptional year," says her coach Jim Ferguson. "To win the trials by 17 seconds is almost unheard of, given that, in rowing terms, winning a race by even one second is good."

Rugby John Barclay (Dollar Academy, Clackmannanshire)

The back row player has made his mark in 2003 at school, and at international and national levels. He helped Dollar Academy win the Bell Lawrie White Scottish Schools Cup early in the year and represented his country in a rugby sevens tournament in Budapest in June. He has shown rapid development by making it into the Scotland Under-18 squad as a 16-year-old. He shows the potential to become a full Scotland cap in the future.

John is now 17 and in his final year at Dollar Academy. He is part of the Caledonia Rugby Academy as well as the Scotland development squad for the Commonwealth Youth Games in Bendigo, Australia, in 11 months' time.

"He's strong and athletic and has had a very good year," says Colin Thomson, the Scottish Rugby Union's age grade development manager. "He should do really well in the game if he keeps progressing at his current rate."

Swimming Scott Houston (Garnock Academy, North Ayrshire)

Swimming is a Houston family talent: Scott's 18-year-old brother, Craig, is in the Scottish Institute of Sport and their 14-year-old brother, Stuart, is a member of the Scottish youth squad. Scott, aged 16, is ranked Britain's number one in his age-group for 50m, 100m and 200m backstroke.

He won two individual bronze medals at the European Youth Olympic festival in Paris in the summer, where he set a 200m backstroke British junior record of 2min 06.19sec and a 100m backstroke Scottish junior record of 59.11sec. He also won a team gold medal in the 4x50m medley relay.

"I believe Scott is an outstanding talent in swimming," says coach Graham Wardell. "He has excellent skills combined with a first-rate work ethic and a passion to succeed."

Scott's target this year is to be part of the Great Britain team at the European Junior Championships in Portugal in July.

Table tennis Craig Howieson (James Gillespie's High, Edinburgh)

At just 13, Craig is already making a mark at senior-level table tennis and plays in the Premier Division of the Edinburgh and Lothian League.

He has beaten Scotland's number four, Craig Gascoyne, and in his first year at under-15 level has already defeated the English number four. At the end of November, he won the Scottish cadet ranking tournament in Perth, where he dropped only one set all day.

Craig is tipped to follow in the footsteps of the Scottish number one, Gavin Rumgay, who is now playing full-time in Sweden.

"I would say he has the same potential that Gavin had at his age and he is now beating players who are a lot older than him," says coach Tom Hook. "He started playing at the age of nine and is on a par with some of the best players we have produced in recent years."

Tennis Caitlin Steel (Bannerman High, Glasgow)

The 13-year-old made her breakthrough in 2003 and won her first Great Britain Under-14 cap towards the end of the year against Sweden. Ranked number one in her age group in Scotland, Caitlin reached the semi-finals of the singles contest at the British Under-13 Championships and won the doubles title. She also won the girls' under-16 title at the Irn-Bru Classic in the summer.

"Caitlin has progressed very well in the past year and has a lot of potential in the game," says Scottish national coach Judy Murray. "She is one of our best young prospects."

Caitlin is expected to continue her progress in 2004 and enhance her Great Britain ranking. She is a member of the Scottish tennis academy and pushing hard on the heels of Scotland's Under-14 number one. Pamela Pretswell, who is a year older.

In boys' tennis, 14-year-old Graeme Dyce (Stewart's Melville College, Edinburgh) had another outstanding year, rising to 81 in the world rankings at under-14 level.

Volleyball Fiona McPherson (Marr College, Troon, South Ayrshire)

A trio of Marr College volleyball players - Fiona, aged 16, Caroline Clayton, also 16, and Carys McGee, 15 - is currently playing in the Scottish League first division with Troon Muirhead. Fiona, who is a member of the Scotland Under-18 squad, she has shown she can hold her own against more experienced players and is tipped as a future Scotland international player.

The swing hitter stands nearly 6ft and has the right height profile and ball-handling skills to make her name in the sport.

"The good thing about Fiona is that she has a great attitude and works very hard at her game," says Troon club coach Vince Krawczyk.

"She has the potential to go on and become part of the Scotland senior national squad and it has helped her that there are three Marr College girls stepping up at the same time."

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