If ever there was a year for Tasmania to reach its first Australian Netball League finals series, this is it.
Traditionally overshadowed by the powerhouse netball states on the mainland, Tassie’s highest ANL finish was sixth in 2017 and in 2015.
But having joined forces with Magpies Netball last year and now blessed with a squad loaded with Magpies talent, expectations are high for the minnows to announce themselves as a major ANL force when they kick off their campaign against defending champions WA Sting in Perth this weekend.
On paper the team looks hard to beat, with Magpies defensive training partners Mary Livesey and Sharni Lambden, midcourters Vanessa Augustini, Mel Bragg and Kelsie Rainbow and goaler Cody Lange all expected to see significant court time throughout the Magpies’ ANL campaign
The team this week also added 201cm goal shooter and former Adelaide Thunderbird Jane Cook to its roster, taking the place of Sam Gooden, who was snapped up by the Melbourne Vixens after a long-term injury to Emma Ryde.
The rest of the squad will feature the best of Tasmania’s local talent, which head coach Kate Upton said had taken giant steps forward from previous campaigns.
“This year we’re focusing on a huge amount with our development, and making sure that we’re trying to get those Tasmanian athletes up to the same standard, which I don’t think we’re very far off at all with some of those athletes,” Upton said.
“Some of them are phenomenal and have exceeded our expectations.”
“Our aim is to make sure that we have a blend of youth and experience so that we can develop the whole group and then just making sure that we give as much exposure to all our athletes as we possibly can.”
While other ANL squads will have completed dozens of on-court training sessions together, for Tasmania a unique approach to training is required in order to bridge the (literal) gap between the Victorian-based and Tasmanian-based athletes.
The squad has come together at select times throughout pre-season, however the remainder of the time they’ve relied on technology to keep the players ticking along at the same rate.
“Our assistant coach is Tasmanian-based, and she obviously takes the Tasmanian-based athletes and I’m in Victoria taking our Victorian-based athletes and we do the same training sessions,” Upton said.
“With the help of technology these days, we have a session plan, our (Victorian) session gets videoed before theirs and that gets sent across to them and Claire (assistant coach Claire Dennis) puts her own touches to it as to what the athletes need over there.”
“It’s a lot of communication to make sure we all understand where we’re headed that week.”
“It’s a really good feel, it’s a very inclusive environment and we’ve gone the whole approach of making sure that we’re that ‘one team’ environment. Everyone seems to be very much on the same page.”
Upton said the squad’s focus on youth was incredibly exciting for netball on the ‘Apple Isle’.
“We’ve got a couple of young girls from Tassie coming in. Mary Livesey is our eldest player, so for us that’s a huge tick right there, because everyone else is under 27 years of age,” she said.
“Our youngest one that was in our squad was 16 or 17. When we went to camp the majority of them were under the age of 20.
“I’m just really excited to see what ANL brings this year. I think the level’s going to go up another notch, so that’s really exciting for everyone in the country.”
The Tasmanian Magpies start their ANL campaign with a double-header of weekend games against WA Sting on Saturday 5 May and Sunday 6 May.
Tasmanian fans can watch the team in action at a pair of games in Launceston against Queensland Fusion on Saturday 2 June and Sunday 3 June.
2018 TASMANIAN MAGPIES SQUAD
Vanessa Augustini (Magpies Training Partner)
Melissa Bragg (Magpies Training Partner)
Madeline Carter (Melbourne Uni Lightning)
Samantha Gooden (Magpies training Partner)
Zanna Jodlowska (Karana Flames)
Emma Johns (Kingston Blues)
Sharni Lambden (Magpies Training Partner)
Cody Lange (Magpies Training Partner)
Hannah Lee (Karana Flames)
Mary Livesey (Magpies Training Partner)
Shelby Miller (Cavaliers)
Kaitlin Petrie (Karana Flames)
Dannielle Pickett (Northern Hawks)
Kelsie Rainbow (Melbourne Uni Lightning)
Alex Vinen (Cripps)