THE foundation blocks have been laid in 2013 to ensure netball is regarded as Australia’s most inclusive sport and Netball Australia CEO Kate Palmer is excited about the game’s long-term potential growth.
The formation of the One Netball Advisory group in March was an important step in identifying and removing barriers to netball participation for culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) communities.
Palmer said the One Netball strategy and major overhauls to key Netball Australia pathway programs are vital for netball to attract new players as well as remain relevant to the sport’s existing participants.
“It’s a journey we’ve been on for a number of years and why we’re getting to this point now is because we have eight very healthy state and territory organisations who do a wonderful job,” Palmer said.
“The joy about it has been that the whole sport has come on board with our One Netball strategy. They understand that if we want to be relevant in the future, we need to tackle this question of `are we welcoming?’ `are we inclusive to every single person that’s living in this country?’.
“It’s going to be a long journey, but the good thing for me is that we’ve actually started. The commitment from all our state and territory organisations means that we will be successful.”
At the elite level, Palmer said one of her highlights of 2013 was watching the emergence of Australia’s next generation of talent in the likes of Kim Ravaillion, Paige Hadley, Gabi Simpson and Courtney Bruce.
“In a way, the ANZ Championship came of age (in 2013),” she said.
“I was so excited about the competition and how fierce it was, how close the contests were. For the first time there’s been a levelling in all the teams, but also recognising at the same time it actually could do much more for the game.
“Out of the ANZ Champs come some young athletes and ending the year watching our most talented, young emerging athletes playing Fast5, it’s actually exciting for the future of the sport.”
With the year drawing to a close, we take a look back at some of the highlights on and off the court.
On court, the Australian Diamonds enjoyed the perfect preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games by reclaiming the coveted Constellation Cup off New Zealand in a hard-fought five Test series in September and October.
The Diamonds also won both Tests against the Malawi Queens to wrap up their international campaign.
The six straight wins more than made amends for Diamonds’ 3-0 loss against England in January.
On a positive note, that UK tour saw the international debut of an exciting talent in Kim Ravaillion along with young defender April Letton. Paige Hadley made her international debut in the series against the Queens while veteran Demelza McCloud made a triumphant return to international level – almost a decade after playing her last Test.
Bianca Chatfield, Kimberlee Green and Natalie Medhurst all reached the 50-Test milestone during the year.
Renae Hallinan (right) capped off an outstanding season by winning the coveted Liz Ellis Diamond, the sport’s highest individual honour.
The Australian 21/U side claimed a silver medal at the World Youth Netball Championships in August, as did the renamed Australian Fast5 Flyers at the Fast5 World Netball Series last month.
On a sad note, we said farewell to two greats of the game in Sharelle McMahon and Natalie von Bertouch – both announcing their retirements at the end of the ANZ Championship season.
McMahon played 118 Tests and von Bertouch 76, both having the honour of captaining Australia during their illustrious careers.
The Thunderbirds’ 50-48 Grand Final win over the Queensland Firebirds was played in front of a crowd of almost 9500 fans at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.
Four Australian-based players were named in the Foxtel All-Star Team – Adelaide pair Erin Bell (GA) and Renae Hallinan (WD) and Melbourne Vixens’ duo Madison Browne (WA) and Geva Mentor (GK). Thunderbirds coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson was named coach of the side.
The Victorian Fury (left) dominated the Australian Netball League, going through the season undefeated on the way to claiming their fourth title and first since 2010.
Star goal shooter Mwai Kumwenda took out the MVP award on her way to setting a new record for the most goals scored in a season and was subsequently signed by New Zealand-based ANZ Championship side the Mainland Tactix.
South Australia completed a double at the national championships, winning the 19/U and 21/U titles while Victoria took out the 17/U crown.
NetFest enjoyed a healthy boost in numbers with almost 1800 players in more than 200 teams taking part in the mass participation event held over three days on the Gold Coast.
This year’s competition coincided with Australia’s final Test against Malawi and also the Australian Netball Awards. Former Diamonds Liz Ellis and Sharelle McMahon were ambassadors and enjoyed being part of the fun and festivities.
Significant steps were taken to ensure the sport’s junior participation numbers continue to rise.
Netball Australia has remodelled the popular ANZ NetSetGO Program after an extensive review and is excited to launching that in 2014.
A two-tier program has been developed to introduce girls – and boys – to the sport starting from five years old.
An exciting initiative will be the addition of a dance component, which will become a key part of the introductory tier. A DVD introducing the new component, and featuring Diamonds star Kim Ravaillion, highlights the use of dance and music as a way to engage and introduce the skills of netball.
In 2014 Netball Australia is expecting 80,000 children will take part in some form of NetSetGO programs at schools, local clubs and associations across the country.
The Coles Netball Schools Ambassador Program has been designed to ensure that netball has a continuous presence in schools and – ultimately – becomes the sport of choice for many students, in particular young girls.
The program has been strengthened by Australian stars Kimberlee Green, Natalie Medhurst, Demelza McCloud, Rebecca Bulley and Madison Browne coming on board as Coles Netball Schools Ambassadors to help spread the word among teachers and students.
The Diamonds squad will gather in Canberra next week for a training camp branded by coach Lisa Alexander as `Going For Gold’.
Palmer said it’s the No.1 priority next year.
“We must win the gold medal in Glasgow,” she declared. “Everyone needs to be committed to that and commit to doing what’s necessary to get us there.”