Almost never has one netball goal meant so much to someone.
Sure, England’s last-second goal to win Commonwealth Games gold was the score that was heard around the world. And one-goal wins are a dime-a-dozen at almost every level of the sport each weekend across the globe.
But on Saturday at a mostly empty USC Stadium on the Sunshine Coast, one solitary goal meant more to 20-year-old Northern Territory midcourter Bethany Fry than any of us will ever understand.
Fry’s story is one of dogged perseverance and persistance that deserves to be told.
To say that wins have been few and far between for Fry throughout her national netball career wouldn’t be accurate, simply because there’s no “between” when you’ve never won a game in the first place.
In six years of representing her state at National Championships and in the ANL, Fry had never tasted victory.
That’s two years playing for the Territory at 17/U Nationals, two years of 19/U Nationals and two seasons of ANL, without once seeing her state with more goals against its name than the opposition.
All told, it’s more than 30 games of elite netball with no on-court wins to show for it.
So it’s hard to fathom the depth of emotion and elation that overwhelmed Fry on Saturday when the Territory Storm finally broke through for a watershed 56-55 ANL victory against South Australia’s Southern Force.
Down by two goals at quarter-time and right in the hunt, the Storm rallied in the second quarter to take a 27-23 lead at half-time and then held their four-goal advantage heading into the final term.
Haunted by the ghosts of the countless games where they’d played admirably and come close to winning, but failed to maintain their best netball for four quarters, the Territory watched as Southern Force came roaring back at them in the final 15 minutes, closing the gap to one goal in the dying minutes.
But Fry says that this time something was different.
“In that last four minutes I remember looking at the scoreboard and I was like, ‘this is our game’, and I think everyone felt that,” she recalls.
“We just were really patient and we just treasured the ball, and I think then it was going goal for goal, that one point, going back and forth.”
After what must have seemed like an eternity, the umpire’s final whistle confirmed a result that likely won’t impact on the ANL finals race at the end of the season, but will most certainly go down as one of the most unforgettable in Australian Netball League history.
And no one deserved to savour it more than Fry.
“Seeing that score, just that one goal meant the world,” she says.
“Even though it was one point, it meant so much to me. It just felt like this last five years led up to that moment of winning.”
“I think it just made it that much better, not winning any games before, to win that one game by one point, it just meant so much. And I was glad that I had that win in the NT colours.”
The past six years’ results were not a reflection of Fry’s talent, or that of her teammates, of course. With the Territory having nowhere near the player numbers or resourcing of netball’s powerhouse states, their focus is proudly on development and having a holistic environment where results aren’t measured only in wins and losses.
But when you’re a young athlete and you’re craving the faintest glimmer of success, a seemingly endless run of losses understandably takes its toll.
“I have won for a club and we did win our Premier League grand final and those sorts of things. But it was that next step going to NT and never winning a game, it was very challenging,” Fry says.
“We have come close before. It’s hard to remember because it’s so many times where we didn’t win, by so many points.”
“It can be really hard, especially when you know what you’re coming up against. And you know how hard the other teams are and the pool we have to pick from, and knowing how we’ve gone in previous years against these teams.”
“The coaches do try and say in the team prep that we’re going for the win, we’re going to do our best. But there is something inside you, that you know you’re probably not going win and it can be hard to think like that, but it’s something probably most NT players know.”
But Fry says it was immediately apparent that there was something different about the team that the Storm assembled this season.
And with a number of Sunshine Coast Lightning players suiting up for the Storm on the weekend, there was a genuine optimism that if they stuck to their game plan for four quarters, something special might happen.
“I feel like, just with this game, with having a few imports and a few other girls in the team, I think it really helped change that mindset to ‘we actually can win’.”
“People say, ‘Oh, you’ve got these good players’, but you can have as many good players as you want, but if you’re not playing as a team you won’t play well.”
“I feel like we just really came together and they accepted us as on the same level as them, not like they were better players, or they were coming from the Lightning. It was that we’re in this team, we’re in this team together.”
As if Fry needed another layer to what has been a remarkable netball story, she was initially only a reserve player for this year’s Storm team, and considered not accepting the reserve spot, having been called into the team at the last minute last year but not receiving many opportunities on court.
“I was tossing it up after last year. It was quite hard not being selected and then being pulled in at the last minute, and only getting to travel (to play with the team) once, I found that really hard,” she says.
“I was told to make the decision whether I wanted to accept the reserve position or if I didn’t. And I pretty much made that decision that I’m going to accept it and I’m just going to keep training.”
As the ANL season approached and opportunities were scarce, Fry began to wonder if all of the training, commitment and setbacks were worth it. But one phone call changed everything and set in motion the series of events that led to Saturday’s win.
“When it was getting close to them going away (for the opening round of ANL) … I started getting in that mindset that I’m not going to be going away anyway so what’s the point? And then funnily enough, the next day Penny (coach Penny Shearer) called me and had good news that I was in the team,” she says.
An injury to a Lightning player saw one of the Lightning’s training partners elevated , which opened the door for Fry.
She hadn’t seen much court time in the Storm’s ANL campaign thus far, but when she was called upon at quarter-time on Saturday, she was ready to grab her opportunity with both hands, and was a critical part of the Storm’s breakthrough win.
Fry has moved to Sydney this year in pursuit of a higher level of regular competition, as she chases her netball dream of a spot on a Suncorp Super Netball roster.
You’d be brave to bet against her.
– by Adrian Ballantyne