The selection of the Samsung Diamonds squad is something that never fails to evoke passion from netball fans Australia wide, as our next group of stars are revealed to the world.
But for those tasked with selecting the team and managing the Diamonds’ performance – both short-term and long-term – there’s far more to it than simply drawing up a list of athletes who might be good enough to make the final 12 in September.
Netball Australia Executive General Manager of Sport, Andrew Collins, says the selection of the squad is the latest step in a four-year performance cycle for the Samsung Diamonds, with the end of the current cycle not far away.
And it’s a process that consumes hundreds of hours of match analysis and discussion as the selectors, led by coach Lisa Alexander with Anne Sargeant and Michelle Wilkins, work towards finding the right mix of athletes to carry the team forward through the next period of its development.
Collins says it’s important to note that the level of analysis and data that goes into the selection of a Diamonds athlete is truly staggering.
“The amount of data and information that’s collected on every performance, every week around every athlete and the way that data is brought together around the selection outcomes is extremely rigorous,” he says.
“One thing our selectors are is extremely thorough. Their diligence to watching every performance of every athlete and bringing that to the table is significant.”
“They’re also balancing that with what they’ve seen internationally. There’s a bit of a difference in the style and environment of international netball compared to Suncorp Super Netball. There’s a whole range of different considerations and a different style of game, and therefore sometimes we need an athlete that’s going to fit the strategy of the way the coach wants to play, as well.”
Finding the right balance between ensuring there is enough experience among the playing group, while also exposing young talent to the next level is a key consideration for any national team, but particularly for the Diamonds, after the retirements of four of the team’s long-term and best-performed servants.
The selectors’ task this time around was made considerably more challenging by the international retirements of Laura Geitz, Madi Robinson and Susan Pettitt, who all represented Australia at the Commonwealth Games, as well as Sharni Layton, who has been a stalwart in Diamonds squads for the better part of a decade.
While the collective exit of some of the team’s most experienced athletes might appear challenging, Collins says it’s something the team has dealt with before.
“After the 2014 Commonwealth Games and heading into the 2015 World Cup, Bianca Chatfield announced her retirement and we also had a fairly significant change through injury and selection between the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Netball World Cup in 2015 as well,” he says.
“There were three or four differences in the 12. The situation right now is probably unusual in terms of the number of retirements, but in terms of the reality of your 12 being constant or changed, it’s probably not that different to where we were between Glasgow and the 2015 World Cup.”
“There’s no question that you lose some great experience from the athletes that have retired from the Diamonds squad. They’ve been terrific contributors to our success over many years and it is not easy to replace what each of those athletes have bought to the Diamonds environment.”
“In saying that, we think we’ve got the depth and the quality of athletes coming through our system to be able to fill those positions.”
Collins says Suncorp Super Netball form weighs heavily in the selection process, as potential Diamonds are currently facing off on a weekly, but is far from the overarching factor in determining selections.
Instead it’s a mix of form, the make-up of the squad and how athletes fit within that structure, and the importance of developing the next crop of Diamonds that are all considerable factors. Midcourters Jamie-Lee Price and Jess Anstiss are the new inclusions in the Diamonds squad, while Sarah Klau rejoins the squad after being a late call-up in the lead-in to the Commonwealth Games.
“In terms of some of the younger athletes in the squad, that’s always exciting. Some of that talent has been in the system for a little while as part of our Youth World Cup team from last year, and has now had some great experience at SSN level and we think they are ready to make the next jump,” Collins says.
“It’s important we start to expose them to the culture of the team, the environment and what’s expected of a Diamonds athlete, because we need to support them on their journey to become Diamonds starting athletes.”
“The other part is we need to continue to build competitive pressure. Playing for the Diamonds is an honour but it’s something that I know none of the current squad ever take for granted.”