The 2015 Constellation Cup has been a series of milestones.
The four-Test series has seen the international debuts of Gretel Tippett, Gabi Simpson, Ashleigh Brazill and Jo Weston, along with shooter Natalie Medhurst becoming just the 10th player in Australian netball history to record 75th appearances in the green and gold or more.
History will continue on Friday when the Diamonds take to the court against the Silver Ferns in the fourth and final Test of the 2015 Constellation Cup series at the Perth Arena.
Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander will become just the fifth to coach Australia in 50 Tests – joining an illustrious group featuring Jill McIntosh (94 Tests), Norma Plummer (83), Joyce Brown (66) and Wilma Shakespear (53).
On the eve of her milestone, Netball Australia sat down and caught up with Alexander to reflect on her journey and some of the highlights over the past four years.
NA: Lisa, congratulations of reaching 50 Tests as Australian coach. What does that achievement mean to you?
LA: It’s a real honour to be here, a girl who started playing netball at the age of 10 for Cheltenham Church of Christ Netball Club and just loved the game. It’s hard to comprehend sometimes.
When I first applied for the job I set out to put together what I considered to be the world’s best high performance program. Winning is a consequence of that. If you do that well then results will come.
NA: What are your memories from your first Test match as coach against New Zealand – ironically in Perth – back in 2011?
LA: We had a clean sweep of victories in the series against England and then we got significant injuries. So there’s a few parallels between then and now. We developed and introduced some new players into the group. I think it might have been Susan Fuhrmann’s last or the second last Test that she played. The great thing was that she got to play that Test for her country in her home town of Perth after she’d won the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore. So that was really pleasing for Susan and her family.
I distinctly remember the game. We didn’t start well and then we had an almighty comeback and it was a really brave effort by everyone.
I remember Kim Green running around like a general trying to get it all going and we had to combat Irene van Dyk and Maria Tutaia and we had some different set ups for them.
Overall it was just a fascinating start to, from my point of view, a great chess game against Wai Taumaunu played through netball – and it’s continued to be that.
NA: Is it still as exciting to play the Silver Ferns now as it was the first time you ever coached against them?
LA: I think I was a lot more nervous that first time around because it’s the cream of sport in the world. I was speaking about this rivalry recently and it’s just second to none. The contest is just as tight as ever and we both don’t want to give anything. There’s nothing easy, it’s always a hard grind.
NA: Is there a particular highlight you remember?
LA: Our first win in the Constellation Cup in Melbourne in that 2011 series was very special. I can remember thinking `this is great;coaching at home and they’re right behind us’ and it could have gone either way. It was a very tight defensive game and great that we got that win. It was a special moment for me because I remember looking up into the crowd at my family afterwards and all the sacrifices that everyone puts in is worth it in that moment.
The other special moment has to be winning the Commonwealth Games gold medal in Glasgow because that was the culmination of a wonderful period of time and a great team led by captain Laura Geitz and vice-captain Bianca Chatfield and with a great coaching staff. It was, in many respects, a perfect tournament.
NA: This will be the last time that you coach a Test match against Wai. What’s she been like as an opponent over the last four years?
LA: Wai is an awesome coach, a great opponent. I’ve respected Wai for many years. She passionately wants her team to win, like I do.
She’s a really good person, very caring of her athletes and that’s her priority and I respect that enormously.
NA: You recently committed to coaching the Diamonds through until the 2019 Netball World Cup in Liverpool; looking forward to another four years at the helm?
LA: I certainly think I can improve as a coach and get better. We review our performances as a coaching group after every Test. Like the players, I will bring my A-Grade game on Friday night.
I’m just so excited about the next four years with the athletes that we’ve got. I wouldn’t have put my hand up to say I’d go on for another cycle if I wasn’t energized and ready to step up again.
It’s an exciting time, especially for the sport itself. It’s really going to grow from strength to strength.
In the next few years watch this space.