lifestyle

Our interview with the captain of the Australian Netball Team.

Laura
Laura Geitz. Photo ©David Callow/Netball Australia.

 

By NATALIA HAWK

It was a pair of shoes that started it all.

Laura Geitz grew up in the country, on a 1500-acre cattle and grain farm, two and a half hours out of Brisbane. She didn’t actually have the opportunity to play netball until she turned 13 and went to a new school, where she had the option of choosing between hockey and netball. And she very nearly chose hockey.

But Laura’s sister picked netball, and as a result, got an “amazing” pair of purple sports shoes.

“I thought, I’m going to sign up to netball, because I’ll get a great pair of shoes like that!” Laura tells me when she calls me to discuss all things netball-related. “And that’s kind of how it all came together.”

Now, she’s the captain of the Australian netball team, the Diamonds. How’s that for a fluke?

Netball’s been in the news this week, after the Coalition promised that, if elected, they would provide $3 million towards preparation for the 2015 World Cup, and another $3 million towards completing a state-of-the-art netball complex at Sydney Olympic Park.

It would certainly be a welcome move, considering that netball is one of Australia’s most popular sports. As soon as winter hits, hundreds of thousands of girls pull on bibs with “C” or “WD” or even “GK” on them, and hit the netball courts at their local park. The great majority of Australian women have played the game at some point or another, even if just once or twice.

And to so many young girls aspiring to be professional netballers, 26-year-old Laura may just be their biggest inspiration.

Laura was talent identified at 15 after just two years playing netball for her school. She started out in the Firebabes, a feeder team for the Queensland Firebirds, then made the under 17s side for Queensland. In 2011 – the year which she calls her “most influential to date” – she won ANZ premiership with the Firebirds that year, and went on to win the World Championships in Singapore. Laura was then awarded the Liz Ellis Diamond, which is essentially the netball equivalent to the Brownlow medal. “2011 for me was basically like a fairytale,” she says. “In a way, you couldn’t have got any better.”

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Laura playing netball in Christchurch against the Silver Ferns. Photo by ©David Callow/Netball Australia.
Laura playing netball in Christchurch against the Silver Ferns. Photo by ©David Callow/Netball Australia.

When I ask her how she managed to become captain of the Australian netball team, she just laughs. “I ask myself the same question, to be honest!” she says. “It’s been an amazing honour to be named captain, I definitely wasn’t expecting it.”

She’d been captain for the Firebirds for one year, so when the opportunity came to captain the Diamonds came up, Laura put her name forward. “I was lucky enough to have the support of  the playing group and all the girls in the team, which meant a lot,” she tells me. “It’s going to be a massive challenge for me, and a big learning curve, that’s for sure!”

She’s the second Queenslander captain in 75 years – the last was Vicki Wilson, who is regarded as “netball royalty” up in Queensland.

She’s taking over from Natalie van Bertouch, an incredibly talented netballer, who led both the Diamonds and the Thunderbirds to many victories, including world championship wins in 2007 and 2011, and a championship title in 2010.

Laura says that Nat was “just amazing”;  “I’ve been exposed to some amazing leaders and some pretty incredible women that have paved the way not only for the athletes of netball, but also netball in general in the public eye.”

After a disappointing international season, Laura hopes to bring a bit of a “successful culture” back into the team; they’re already won 9 out of 12 World Championships and are now going into the Commonwealth Games and another World Championships, so she’s really hoping to maintain the status of the Diamonds being one of Australia’s most successful sporting times.

“I’m excited about creating a level playing field for everyone regardless of whether you’re a rookie or if you’ve been in a team for years,” she tells me. “I think that’s what gets the best out of players – when it’s an enjoyable and encouraging environment.”

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But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing – or, well, netball-ing. Her father, to whom she was incredibly close, passed away in a farming accident earlier in the year; naturally it’s been incredibly difficult, especially considering she had to captain the Queensland Firebirds to the ANZ Grand Final just a month after his passing.

“I’m blessed to be raised by such a wonderful man and we very much miss him dearly, but I think being awarded captain I know that he’s probably up there with a big grin on his face and he’s never too far from me,” she tells me. “While it’s definitely got its challenges, I can still draw a lot of strength from what has happened as well.”

And it’s onto the next challenge for netballers – pushing for full financial renumeration so that young girls coming through the sport are able to rely on the sport as a profession. At this stage, every player also has to either work or study full-time, as well as train as a full-time athlete.

“That’s not to say we don’t appreciate where the sports come in the last few years,” Laura tells me. “We understand that there’s been a lot of women play the sport before us for basically peanuts. And even if the girls do become full time professional athletes, I think there will always be a huge push for them to be giving back to the sport in other ways.”

Laura playing netball. Photo by ©David Callow/Netball Australia.
Laura playing netball. Photo by ©David Callow/Netball Australia.

So how can the sport grow, to get to the point where it’s at the same level as others, such as rugby league and cricket?

“We obviously need more sponsorship, that’s a massive part of it like any other sport is,” she says. “We’re totally 100% so grateful to the amazing sponsors we have on board at the moment.

We have Foxtel at the moment, and being on TV is a massive part of getting the viewing and being in front of people on a weekly basis. So we are there, but we just need to go a little bit more.”

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I asked her about the fact that there ARE so many women out there playing netball on the weekends – why is there a disconnect between them playing the sport and actually coming along to view it?

“We’re really keen to improve  that relationship between Australia’s number one sporting team and the grassroots and the social players that are out there playing,” she says. “It really comes down to the venue – when we have test matches, they’re sold out stadiums, so the bigger the stadium, the more people we get along.”

She adds that she’d like to see netball expand beyond being a simply Commonwealth sport: “Obviously basketball is quite a similar sport to us, and you can see it is quite a massive sport throughout Europe and America. That’s what we’d need netball to do, to be considered an Olympic sport.”

As for young girls who are hoping to play professional netball?

“From a young age, you will face many challenges along the way, and that’s what makes it all worthwhile when you achieve your goal and your dream,” Laura says. “You just have to be happy during the process. Yes there will be some tough times, but just don’t let it get you down, you still have to enjoy playing the sport. And when you do enjoy playing the sport and have a true passion for it, that’s when you’ll achieve good things.”

The other thing she likes to tell girls is that sometimes the information on becoming a Firebird or a Diamond can get quite overwhelming. She suggests speaking to people who have come through the ranks so that they can explain the development pathways to you. “Just ask questions and if you do have dreams and aspirations, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help,” she tells me. “That was probably the best advice I ever received.”

Laura has a clothing/equipment line for netballers which you can check out here; she also runs coaching clinics, which you can see here.

You can check out the Netball Australia website here.

The Australian under-21’s netball team are through to the grand finals of the World Youth Netball Championships in Glasgow after defeating England in the semi-final. Australia had a convincing 67-33 win over the Brits but their coach Carol Byers said the score line didn’t reflect the difficulty of the game. Australia will now face New Zealand in the Grand Final on Saturday.

Kitty Chiller has become the first woman to be appointed Chef de Mission of the Australian Olympic Team, after being named in the role for the Rio Games in 2016. The role involves managing the team, providing leadership and ensuring efficient organisation and conduct of athletes. Kitty was also the deputy Chef de Mission for the 2012 London Games.

Jodie Fields in 2012
Jodie Fields in 2012

England has won the Women’s Ashes series after a five wicket win in the second T20 match. Captain of the Southern Stars, Jodie Fields, expressed her disappointment at the loss, saying: “We’re pretty disappointed, to be honest.

Leading the side, I’m pretty disappointed for everyone. I know we came here today, we really fought hard but I don’t think 127 was enough.” The final score was England 5/128 – Australia 7/127.

Although the Aussies have already technically lost the Ashes, the third T20 game will still be played on Saturday and aired on FOX Sports.

Karyn Murphy, who captained the winning Australian Womens team the Jillaroos in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, has been announced as a finalist for the Harvey Norman Women in League award.

The award recognises women who have shown outstanding support in the progression and opportunity for women in Rugby League. The Winner will be announced on the 30th September at the NRL One Community Awards which are to be held at the Sydney Town Hall.

The Lauren Jackson Basketball Academy Program is accepting registrations to join. The 12-week course is aimed at 15-18 year old  in Victoria with any level of basketball experience. The camp consists of a combination of sport, education and personal development.

“Running camps is great because it’s great because it’s getting kids involved in sport but it is also offering an education in something that is very special, for me that’s the most exciting part about this program,” said Lauren. Registrations close on the 29 September. For more information, go here.

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