Start of pre-season speeds up countdown to 2014


THERE are less than 100 days to go before the opening whistle of the 2014 ANZ Championship season but it begins in earnest next week.

Every franchise officially begins pre-season training on Monday with players set to be put through a solid workload leading up to the Christmas-New Year break.

With the season beginning earlier next year due to the Commonwealth Games in Scotland mid-year, coaches are mindful of the need to have their athletes fit and ready to go ahead of Round 1.

The five Australian franchises will start their pre-season without their Australian Diamonds’ squad members, who will be in Canberra for a week-long camp as part of the team’s preparations for next year’s Commonwealth Games.

Melbourne Vixens recruit Catherine Cox said club’s pre-season training schedule has changed a lot from when her career first began at the NSW Swifts in the mid 1990s.

“There’s a lot more time dedicated to pre-season training. It would be (a session) everyday now whereas back in the early days you probably had three or four days together as a team and relied on individual sessions outside of that,” Cox said.

“It was always tough at the Swifts. Even in the early days, when the sport was not as professional as it is today, the team acted like it was (professional).”

The 37-year-old is excited to meet her new teammates next Monday night. Ironically, her last match for West Coast Fever was against the Vixens – in Melbourne.

“I’ve done nothing for four months, so I’ve had a good rest and I’m ready to go,” she said.

Reigning champions the Adelaide Thunderbirds will hold sessions four times a week over the summer and include their `Thunderbabes’ development squad, which features South African international Mari du Toit.

Coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson has planned a three-day training camp for her squad in the Adelaide hills in January.

Adelaide’s Australian representatives Renae Hallinan, Erin Bell and Rebecca Bulley won’t join their teammates until January 6 with Woodlands-Thompson saying she’s given them extra time off due to their heavy workload late in the year with the Diamonds.

A new era gets underway in Sydney with Rob Wright taking over as head coach of the NSW Swifts with some exciting young talent and some experienced players joining the team for 2014.

Abbey McCulloch has returned home after a season with the Queensland Firebirds while former international basketballer and Australian 21/U shooter Gretel Tippett has joined the Swifts and is excited to be given an opportunity to showcase her talents at ANZ Championship level.

Having finished runners up in 2013 to the Thunderbirds, Firebirds coach Roselee Jencke is optimistic she has a squad capable of challenging for the title next season.

“We’ve definitely put 2013 to bed. This is a new group of players with a good blend of experience and some young ones who have got really fantastic positive attitudes,” Jencke said.

“They’re not afraid of having a go and putting their mark on the game themselves. They come with a good work ethic first and foremost and a great attitude to netball both on and off the court. That sits well in our environment.

“We’ve got magnificent leaders here who are very grounded and know what is required to perform and win championships.”

West Coast Fever coach Norma Plummer is eager to get working with her new-look squad.

The Fever’s high-profile recruit Natalie Medhurst won’t join her new teammates until later in the month while English commitments means that defender Eboni Beckford-Chambers isn’t back in Perth until late January.

Chanel Gomes and Ashleigh Brazill will have delayed starts to the pre-season campaigns because of niggling injuries but Plummer said the rest of her squad was looking forward to start preparing for 2014.

“From the emails, all the girls are saying they’re really looking forward to it. There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation at this stage,” Plummer said.

Teams will return after the Christmas-New Year break on January 6 with the pre-season tournament being held in mid-February.