NS EXCLUSIVE: Diamond chat bonus – part 3 with Kiera Austin and Sophie Garbin

NS EXCLUSIVE: Diamond chat bonus – part 3 with Kiera Austin and Sophie Garbin

In a bonus episode, Netball Scoop continues our quick chats with the Diamonds. Kiera Austin and Sophie Garbin took a few moments ahead of the first Constellation Cup match.

 

Sophie Garbin

 

Sophie Garbin takes the ball against strong contest from South Africa's Zanele Vimbela in the 2022 Quad Series. Image: Ben Lumley

Sophie Garbin takes the ball against  South Africa’s Zanele Vimbela in the 2022 Quad Series. Image: Ben Lumley

 

You’ve recently been added to the New Zealand leg of the Constellation Cup. How did that come about?

“We headed into camp and I had the idea that I’d be coming home, so I didn’t bring my passport with me. On Friday night Stacey (Marinkovich) gave me a call which was a bit strange as we were in camp. She asked if I wanted to join them team and of course I said yes.

“I went back to Melbourne on Saturday night, picked up my passport and flew to New Zealand on Sunday with one of the staff members. I beat the rest of the girls here. They got back to the hotel at 12 o’clock but I was already asleep in bed.”

 

What was the Diamonds’ camp like?

“I’d had a bit of a break with netball in the off season, then got back into training, and came into camp really excited to see the girls again after their successful Comm Games. I came in a bit more relaxed than I have in the past, and enjoyed it more, which I think helped in my performances and for me to get selected for the New Zealand leg.”

 

Do you know what your role will be in the series?

“To go out there and play my role as a holding shooter. Before coming into camp Stacey said I’d be there to play goal shooter and we’ve also spoken about our individual strengths and making sure we’re working on them. Not necessarily trying to add new things to our game but focusing on what we are good at.

“Stacey reiterated my strength and my hold, so if I do get the opportunity to get out on court, bringing that and to help out the team to try and get the Constellation Cup back to Australia.”

 

You’re comfortable moving states for court time. What are the challenges involved?

“I thought growing up I’d play for Fever and would live in WA for the rest of my life! But the opportunity to go to the Swifts was great and I had a good four years. I was really settled there, and then thought why not change it up and be unsettled in Melbourne?

“The first move really helped me with the second move and I was able to settle a lot quicker. There were lots of challenges being away from family and not having a natural support network, but I’ve had to go out and find my own support network in each state. It all comes down to the people that you surround yourself with and we’ve got a great group at Collingwood. I’m really enjoying my time there.”

 

You’re spending more time at goal attack at Collingwood. How have you found that?

“I’ve enjoyed having more consistent time at goal attack. I played it at Swifts and shared that role with Helen (Housby), but only for shorter periods of time. In our game now, a lot of shooters are the tall internationals which a lot of people screw their noses up at. But I love having internationals in our league, and think it would be great to add more teams so that we can have more international and Australian players.

“It’s great to play both positions to have longevity in my career, especially now that there’s only 10 spots in a team, as it helps you find a home and a job. A lot more players are now playing multiple positions as a result, and I think it adds to Australia’s versatility.”

 

What has playing goal attack added to your role as a shooter?

“The capacity to read the game, and also to read what goal attacks are doing in front of me. It’s also helped me to come out and handle the ball a lot more, and add in more mobility, and that’s given me a lot more confidence.”

 

It can be difficult when you are celebrating your selection into a Diamonds’ squad, but teammates such as Kelsey Browne haven’t been elevated. How do you handle those conflicting emotions?

“It’s hard when you want your friends to do well and be with you in the Diamonds. After Kelsey’s season this year she can’t be disappointed with her performances. She has to keep putting out her best every week and she’d love to be here with us, any player would, but I get around her and make sure she knows she’s doing well.

“It does take a toll not being selected, especially when you’ve been in the Diamonds before. She’s not that young anymore – around 30 now – and still playing some of the best netball she’s played. Schez debuted when she was nearly 30, so you never say never, because anything could still happen. It’s great that Kelsey is selected in the Fast5 and I’m doing that with her.”

 

With Gretel Bueta now out of the mix, how does the attacking end build combinations quickly?

“From the first camp when we were in quarantine in New Zealand last year, it’s been building relationships so that when we come back into each camp we keep pushing forwards rather than going back to square one.

“I’ve noticed a change each time I’ve come into the environment, that the shooters are all working better with each other, especially me and Steph who hadn’t played together before that first camp. People like Cara, Kiera and I have had a bit of junior underage stuff in the Aussie squad together.

“But building the off court relationships definitely helps when you get on the court. We’ve been able to do that. We’ve also been doing mini-hubs in each state. I’ve been doing that with the Vixens girls, so I’ve been working alongside players like Liz Watson and Kate Moloney.”

 

How is the Diamonds’ environment off court?

“It’s really good. Each time I’ve come in, I’ve felt more comfortable. I can’t speak from before Stacey Marinkovich’s time because she’s the only national coach I’ve had, but the environment is relaxed, especially after the Comm Games and getting the monkey off our back.

“We’ve spent so much time together in camp that we’ve built new connections quickly as well – I didn’t really know Donnell or Ruby before I got here. We all have a lot of fun, and get on well.

“We are building a great environment.”

 

You have three tours ahead – a busy but exciting time.

“I’m super excited. My last two tours were the Constellation Cup in New Zealand, and the Quad Series in England, both of which we were in quarantine for. So it’s really nice to be travelling, and it’s also the first time I’ve been on tour in Australia. It will be great to play in front of our fans and family.

We will also be having back to back games against England, so getting the full tour experience like the Diamonds had pre-Covid. Then joining some of the younger girls at Fast5 – I can’t wait.”

 

Kiera Austin

 

Kiera Austin at the recent Diamonds’ media day. Image May Bailey/Clusterpix

 

You’ve had a fairy tale recall to the Australian Diamonds since your knee injury last year. What was your phone call like?

It was a quiet day for me, because I just sat and waited the whole day for a phone call. I thought I’d be one of the first calls due to my name starting with ‘A’, but I think they planned it around training schedules. I was at 2pm, so had a taste of having a surname late in the alphabet.

“I was very emotional, a few tears, a reward for all the hard work that had gone into rehab.”

 

You’ve previously mentioned that it takes a while to regain mental confidence out on court. How did you process that along with your physical rehab?

“Mental rehab is the hardest part, much harder than physical rehab. You can do everything and have a structurally sound knee, but I just remember wanting to be back for Round 1 but being surprised that I hadn’t actually processed that I’d have to go out and play a game of netball.

“I remember playing half a game, coming off, and thinking that was it for the day. Then I had to go back on and I wasn’t ready whatsoever.

“It took some time, and to be honest, because I came up against my old team, I wanted to be, ‘I’m okay, I’m back now, I’m recovered, look at me go!’

“Once I had the first game all of the nerves and doubts fizzled away. It just takes one game to get belief back in yourself, and it was easier from that point on to play netball and not think about my knee.”

 

You’ve developed some great connections with Liz Watson and Kate Moloney at the Vixens. How does that transfer to the Diamonds?

“Being able to play with Lizzie and Kate was such an enticing part of moving to the Vixens. They have such a wealth of knowledge and they’re still learning from sport as well. So being able to learn along with them, and create those connections has been awesome. To have that stability going into the Diamonds, knowing that it’s not too different to club land, rather than an environment that’s completely foreign.”

 

How was your Comm Games experience?

“It happened so quickly. I don’t think it really hit me until I got into my room at the village, and all the decorations and mascots were laid out on the bed. I face-timed home to show them, and couldn’t believe I’d got to that point. It seemed miles away from doing my knee.

“So I was super-proud, and soaked up every opportunity, every learning experience, to play both goal attack and wing attack.”

 

Your partner and sister came over for the last part of the Commonwealth Games. Was it a spur of the moment decision?

“Probably spur of the moment – they didn’t know until the last moment that I’d made the team. My sister never takes time off work so the fact that she did was surprising. When we were looking for accommodation there was nothing available, so they had to share a room with two single beds just a few inches apart. But we used to live together so that was all fine.

“They lived with me while I was going through rehab, so they knew how much it meant to me, and how big an opportunity it was. To have them there, was a pinch me moment I will remember forever.”

 

Was anything different from what you expected?

“One of the biggest points for me was every team we played against during the pool matches, when we went into a huddle at the end of the game, they were proud and excited to play against the Diamonds. That really stuck with me. I didn’t think of that point of view. To know they’re striving to be where we are, and to measure their own performances, and that made us all the more grateful to be part of the Australian team.”

 

I caught up with some of the Welsh and Scottish athletes at the tournament, and they also mentioned how excited they were to have that opportunity.

“While we play against top four teams like England and New Zealand most years, it’s easy to forget we don’t play against some of the other teams very often. And if we are in different pools at a tournament, it might not happen for quite a few years.”

 

Your debut was against New Zealand in 2021, where they defeated you 3-1. What are you expecting this time?

“My debut was very foreign to me. We were in two weeks of quarantine in New Zealand, and it was a completely different world due to Covid.

“They will be as hungry against us as they usually are. The Silver Ferns performed extremely well against England in the bronze medal match, and the netball they played then was the brand that they’re capable of. They’re continually bolstering their side as players return from injury and maternity leave, while their newer players are gaining more experience. So hopefully we can come out on top.”

 

After years of having a starting seven post shooter in CBass, Australia is moving to a more mobile shooting circle. As a goal attack or wing attack, what is that challenge like for you?

“We’ve seen a lean towards a moving circle in the SSN lately, and growing up, I loved an accurate pass into the circle by the feeders, to a moving target running along the baseline.

“Movement is where you get space created, where you can really get the ball moving, and see some really nice netball. We have a diverse shooting circle at the moment, and I think we will see both a post-up shooter and a moving circle in the upcoming games.”

 

A goal attack-wing attack slide is a really important asset to any team. How do you find that transition?

“I started as a wing attack growing up, and enjoying playing goal attack when I had a chance. Now it’s flipped. I mostly play goal attack, so any time I get a chance to play wing attack I feel quite free. I can probably be more of a play maker than I am at goal attack when I work around a goal shooter, but I do love shooting the goals and being in the circle. That’s where my passion lies.”

 

With Gretel announcing her pregnancy, how was camp knowing that the shooting circle will look quite different in the test matches ahead?

“Gretel is someone that you can’t replace. She will be sorely missed out on court. I learned a lot from her at Comm Games. She’s such a bubbly presence on court, and it reminds me that netball is just a game.

“We’ve been working the combinations really well at camp. Sophie Garbin has come into the New Zealand leg – she’s a really strong, solid holder who is also good in the air. Cara and Steph have played a lot together, I’ve played a little bit with Sophie Dwyer, so combinations are ticking along nicely, but it might take a few centre passes to nut out any kinks. I think we will still perform to what we expect of ourselves.”

 

There hasn’t been a camp at the AIS for a while. As a more experienced athlete now, how did you find it?

“The Comm Games camp went for two weeks, we were in a bubble, and it was quite intensive. So to get our whole squad back together was fun, to get a few different personalities in, get a fresh take on people, bringing their ideas and strengths. Camp is always challenging, but that’s where we get the best out of each other. Our heart rate monitors are more intense during training than during games!”

 

 

All matches between the Diamonds and New Zealand, their men’s teams, and the Diamonds and England, will be shown on-demand and ad-break free on Kayo and Foxtel. 

Kayo’s coverage of the Constellation Cup will showcase innovative new features, including players mic’d during closed-door training sessions, change-room access, live crosses with coaches during games and huddle mics.

 

About the Author:

Physiotherapist, writer and netball enthusiast. Feature articles, editorials and co-author of "Shine: the making of the Australian Netball Diamonds". Everyone has a story to tell, and I'm privileged to put some of them on paper. Thank you to the phenomenal athletes, coaches and people in the netball world who open a door to their lives, and let me tiptoe in.