By sports editor IAN MONAGHAN
MAT Pietersen's mates from Year 11 at Parkes High School are probably at the pool or planning which party to attend during the festive season.
But not 16-year-old Mathew.
Yesterday, surrounded by competitors double and triple his age, lawn bowls' most prominent rising star was taking on some of Australia's best at the prestigious Summerland Pairs tournament at Ballina.
In October he set the bowls world on its collective seat when he took on and beat the best in NSW ? of all ages ? to become the youngest ever winner of the State's major open event.
He was the talk of yesterday's second day's sectional play in the $9840 Ballina pairs competition.
But the pressure of being regarded as the State's number one lawn bowler doesn't faze the teenager one bit.
"There all a bit more wary of me now. But I just play them as I see them and if it works ... it works; after all, it's only a game," he said yesterday after he and lead Geoff Matters (Forbes) won their first match by six shots, drew their second and won the third by six to win their section and last night they qualified for this morning's quarter-finals.
A youngster with his head well and truly screwed on, Mathew rates Year 12 and the HSC next year as his main priority at this stage.
So much so, he's not sure whether he will defend his State title in 2006. "It all depends on what's happening at school at the time," he said.
Mathew has only been playing the game for just under three years, originally introduced to it by schoolmate Martin Gray.
A burgeoning cricket career then took the back-seat to bowls as he joined the Parkes Railway Bowling Club, where he plays No 5 Pennants.
The offers have come thick and fast after his boilover State title victory.
State League big guns Engadine and St John's Park have both invited him to join them in the premier competition in NSW.
But those offers will have to wait till after the HSC.
Meanwhile, with his mates partying and generally enjoying the school holidays, Mathew Pietersen faces a heavy January schedule: he'll leave Ballina this weekend to take on South Australia as a member of the NSW Under-18 bowls team at Cabramatta, and then it's on to matches against ACT and Victoria with the NSW Under-25s.
n Meanwhile, post-sectional play in the $9840 Summerland Pairs ($3000 to the winning pair), was completed last night.
Quarter-finals start at 9 o'clock this morning, with semi-finals scheduled from about 12.30pm and the final between 3-4pm.
Draw for today's quarter-finals (18 ends) from 9am: J Lang, M Anderson v R Erickson, G Hawken; R Wildash, R Hickman v G Bailey, B McNish; T Clarke, R Latta v C Teys J Dolan; C Amos, K Kerkow v G Matters, M Pietersen.