This city’s marquee netball team made its entrance into the Victorian Netball League last season. It was tough, as expected, and the championship division team chalked up one win and some highly competitive matches.
Stakes are higher now.
This city demands improvement. A clear sign this pathway is strengthening. A clear sign our netballers really can mix it at the top.
Neighbour netball clans Bendigo and Geelong have produced some of this nation’s best players, including former Diamonds captain Sharelle McMahon (Bendigo) and new Melbourne Vixens captain Madi Robinson, who will lead a team rich with Geelong-bred player and coached by decorated Geelong product Simone McKinnis.
Our sole export is Joh Curran, a Diamond who spent a season with now-defunct state league club Ballarat Pride when boarding at Ballarat Grammar in 2003. She was recruited to Melbourne Phoenix as a 16-year-old.
Curran is now charged with coaching Sovereigns’ championship division team. She made sweeping changes, retaining one player – goaler Laura McDonald – from the inaugural squad. And has the backing of Australian Diamonds head coach Lisa Alexander.
Like any new coach, Curran will take time to shape her squad. She made clear from the start she knows this assignment would be a challenge.
But Ballarat is a little impatient. This is beyond Curran’s control. We have been starved of consistent state league success since our then-top team reached the 2008 division one grand final.
The tyranny of distance has not been in our teams’ favours. VNL is based at the State Netball Hockey Centre, so we only see action a couple of times each year. It is only a small taste for us to understand how championship level netball is just so demanding, so fast, so intense.
This city punches far above its weight across so many sporting fields. We are so passionate about our netball, with booming numbers in footy-netball and indoor associations. We have proud expectations, which is why we might be a little tough on our netballers.
Alexander, guest for Sovereigns’ season launch this week, told Press Box that Ballarat netball needs “a lift and push” to really connect with the top level. Curran, a young coach, and Sovereigns’ elite performance manager Eloise Southby have the passion but Alexander said this city must keep pushing for improved indoor facilities. High performance training and playing arenas help create pathways and attract top personnel.
Curran, who hails from Murray town Robinvale, knows what it takes to make it to the top from Ballarat. Here is where she launched her playing career. Here is where she will start her coaching career with a team determined to claw off the ladder bottom.
Alexander leads one of the nation’s most successful sporting teams. The reigning world champions. Even her team needs lift and push to keep striving to be better.
“They (Diamonds) still need motivation,” Alexander said. “I have to be creative with them and always bring fresh ideas. I go away and do a bit of work investigating, like I just visited the Australian Ballet. We have talked space travel and climbing Mount Everest – it’s all about extending the human spirit.”
Sovereign’s inaugural season proved players had to get the basics right – technique, tactics, passing. But this is a chance for Curran to take risks and push her team. Alexander said you could never control anything in the coaching game, but you could equip your team with confidence and trust in their decision making skills.
Championship division may not have many familiar Ballarat faces, but this team sets the tone for the club and the region. Sovereigns’ 19-unders reached the preliminary final last season with a smart team-orientated game that countered experience and height they lacked compared to rivals. To retain such promise, Sovereigns need a strong brand to retain players once they graduate from under-age ranks.
Sovereigns play an integral role in developing their sport for the region. This includes reinforcing a pathway for our athletes to push to the highest levels. Their success filters back down to improve our grass roots games.
We have been waiting far too long for state netball success. Sovereigns are spruiking finals ambitions across all three VNL divisions. Now is the time for Sovereigns to deliver.
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