Current INF World Ranking: 2nd
Team: Romelda Aiken, Shanice Beckford, Kadie-Ann Dehaney, Nicole Dixon, Stacian Facey, Jhaniele Fowler, Rebekah Robinson, Shamera Sterling, Adean Thomas, Khadijah Williams, Vangelee Williams, Jodi-Ann Ward
Captain: Jhaniele Fowler
Median age: 25
Over the past five Netball World Cups, Jamaican’s national team, the Sunshine Girls, have played for third place against the English Roses. On two of those occasions (2003 and 2007), they have won the medal. This year, with more Jamaican athletes than ever playing in Suncorp Super Netball, they stand a chance of pushing for a higher podium finish.
The Sunshine Girls are blessed with two dominant, aerial options for goal shooter in Romelda Aiken and their captain, Jhaniele Fowler. Expect to see the pair trading places at half time during the preliminary rounds. Both goalers bring a wealth of experience to the World Cup stage and are reliable options for their feeders.
Yet, despite the calibre of their athleticism, Aiken realises that their notoriety could be a hindrance in their World Cup campaign, “Everybody knows how to stop us now. They know they need to stop the ball before it gets near us. But we are lucky that we have played in a few tournaments together so we know each other well. And, all our shooters bring something different so we can bring that unpredictability when we need to.”
With zippy Shanice Beckford dominating on the Fast5 stage with her spectacular three-point goals, it would be hard to pass her up as an immediate starter in the goal attack bib. However, the Sunshine Girls will likely save her for the bigger matches and give relative unknown, Rebekah Robinson, valuable game experience in the earlier pool rounds.
The weakest chink in the Sunshine Girls armour will likely be their midcourt. During their 2018 Commonwealth Games campaign (where they again finished with a bronze medal after beating the New Zealand Silver Ferns) the midcourt was responsible for the majority of their turnovers in each game.
But Aiken is confident that they can still deliver on the World Cup stage, “I think over the last couple of years we have managed to build the centre court the way we have wanted it to look like. We have always had tall shooters, so they do know how to pass to us. There is a couple of things we need to work on to get the ball down that end and over the transverse. But we can build on that.”
The defence end for the Sunshine Girls is another area which has benefited from athletes playing in Suncorp Super Netball. Again, there are interchangeable athletes in ‘intercept queen’ Shamera Sterling and Kadie-Ann Dehaney who is having the best season of her career thus far, playing an impact role for the Melbourne Vixens.
Supporting their defensive bookends is Vangelee Williams and Stacian Facey who have both benefited from time spent in the Vitality Netball Superleague in England. Both athletes play hard one-on-one, tagging styles of defence which will be of benefit when playing against Australia and South Africa, as well as a number of the lower ranked nations.
Aiken believes that the Jamaican flare will get the Sunshine Girls their first ever top two finish, “Our style of netball will do it. Our flare, our aggression, that unorthodox style of play we bring. It will be pretty exciting. I’m excited for it.”
Predicted 2019 World Cup Placing:
As much as Jamaica has improved over the years, their rise hasn’t been as meteoric as countries such as England and even New Zealand over the last 9 months. And, unfortunately for the Sunshine Girls, they don’t have that strong midcourt like some of the other lower ranked teams. The other top four teams will have done their homework and know to keep the ball low on the delivery into the circle, to combat Sterling. And, they will know to keep the pressure on the feeders into the circle to nullify Aiken and Fowler. For these reasons, I predict Jamaica will fall just short of the podium playoffs and finish 5th overall (though I am happy to be proved wrong).
Aiken’s injury cloud:
Despite her recent tibia injury, Aiken is expected to be fully fit and ready to play their campaign opener against the Fijian Pearls on 12 July. She has already commenced rehab and will be out of the moon boot by late June. However, as a precaution, she will be load managed during the preliminary rounds of the World Cup.