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A chance well taken – Borlase comes out of the shadows and into the spotlight
Linda Pearce – THE SUNDAY AGE
An incident from Jenny Borlase’s netball infancy says much about the determination that has characterised a dual world championship-winning career. She had barely reached her teens when her coach in small- town South Australia answered the reluctant defender’s repeated pleas to be switched to attack. It was an opportunity that young Jenny Kennett, as she was then, was not about to let slip.
And so, each night, she could be found shooting 100 goals at the old asphalt courts in Cummins, a sheep and wheat farming community near the Western Australian border where her parents ran the local supermarket and raised three daughters. Although, admittedly, there may not have been a lot else to do in Cummins. “Girls played netball in winter and tennis in summer or else you’d go to church,” she recalls with a laugh. Borlase was unwittingly laying the foundations for a shooting career highlighted by a key on-court role at this year’s world titles after many years as a bit player.
Indeed, Birmingham will not merely be remembered for Australia’s seventh crown from nine attempts but, in a personal sense, as the scene of Borlase’s coming of age. When Vicki Wilson, Queensland’s champion and long-time custodian of the Australian goal shooter’s bib, was cut down by a knee injury just before half-time in the crucial preliminary game against New Zealand, Borlase, 28, found herself answering a call she had somehow known would come.
“In my preparation I’d been doing absolutely everything right,” the South Australian captain said during this week’s national championships at Waverley. You don’t know what could happen at world championships and I just had this feeling for some reason that I was going to get my opportunity. “I didn’t know how. Vicki has played so well over the past few years and really dominated that position, so it was just a matter of waiting, waiting, waiting. I was prepared to be patient. I didn’t know how or why it could happen but I just had this funny feeling, this sense that I would get a chance. And thankfully I was ready for that opportunity.”
But first, Borlase says, she had felt sick as she watched Wilson carried from the court. Next, her Garville and Australian teammate Natalie Avellino dragged her on to a neighboring court for a warm-up and some words of encouragement. Then came the big moment, the one she had been waiting for since breaking into the national team in 1989 and sitting out as third-choice shooter behind Wilson and Catriona Wagg during the 1991 titles in Sydney. The pressure was immense in a tight contest eventually decided by one goal, but Borlase says she discovered an inner calm and confidence to respond with a percentage above her standard pass mark of 85.
A week later, in a lop-sided decider against South Africa, she finished with 38 goals from 41 attempts, and no one was more excited to be on court to savour the final moment. “Jen made the commitment to herself at the beginning of the year that she was going to give it her utmost and make 1995 a very worthwhile year, and through circumstances beyond her control it’s worked out very well in the end,” says coach Jill McIntosh. “Who knows what would have happened if Vicki didn’t sustain the injury? I don’t know, but you’ve got to be ready for when an opportunity opens up, and I think Jen was primed.”
Primed by years as an interchange player and the knowledge that she was far better equipped this time than in her bench- warming days of ’91. Primed by the fact that when she did finally get a chance to start in last year’s series in New Zealand, it had been out at her less-preferred position of goal attack. Primed by a hard-won reputation as one of the world’s most consistent shooters at club and national level. Primed to do justice to all the hard work it had taken to get this far.
For when Borlase arrived in Adelaide in 1985 to study dental therapy, she had plenty of netball catching up to do. Basic skills like the dodge had to be taught by then Garville coach and leading umpire Chris Burton. She was tall and had an endurance base and the shooting skills honed back in Cummins, but by an age when many of her contemporaries boasted years of specialist coaching in state junior teams, Borlase was also raw and gangly with much still to learn.
That she has done, while admitting her defensive skills, vision and passing could still improve to match her accuracy, strength, agility and aggressive attack on the ball improved with the help of former coach Joyce Brown. So, a decade on, she is happily married to Port Adelaide footballer Darryl Borlase, has been a member of two world champion teams and plans to be around for No. 3 in Christchurch in 1999.
“It was like a dream come true to actually be on court when the whistle blew and to be part of the team that won back-to-back,” she says. “That was my dream and I guess that’s what happened for me. It’s just amazing and I couldn’t have been happier, really. Now I just basically want to enjoy the game. I’d perhaps have to say that in the past I’ve been really serious about it and perhaps too focused, but I really aim to have a great time and make the most of any more opportunities that come along.”