In this two part series, Netball Scoop chatted to five Australian Diamonds about all things Commonwealth Games, and a look ahead at the lead into the 2023 Netball World Cup. Cara Koenen, Kate Moloney and Sarah Klau feature in Part 2.
Having made her international debut in 2021, Cara Koenen had just 12 caps to her name when she played a starring role in the Diamonds’ gold medal win at the Commonwealth Games. Koenen’s movement helped open up Australia’s shooting circle, and reduced the impact of Jamaican star defender, Shamera Sterling. So it feels ‘weird’ to the rising star that in the upcoming series against England, she will be Australia’s most experienced shooter.
You played a pivotal role in the gold medal match. How did it feel to be on court for such a significant game?
While I was prepared to take the court if needed, I was also unprepared if that makes sense. Gretel (Bueta) had played an absolute blinder in the semi-final against England, and Stephanie (Wood) played so well in the goal circle with her. I was warming up with the rest of the team, but I had the utmost confidence in them and didn’t think I’d get court time.
“So when Stacey turned to me and told me to get on the court, it was probably a good thing I only had a few seconds to react and didn’t have time to overthink. My role was to generate some movement, and after having a few issues with our balance in the circle, I think Gretel and I were able to create some nice movement and passages of play.
“I took a lot of confidence that I’d come up against Shamera (Sterling) during Suncorp Super Netball. While I didn’t play against her during the rounds, I had some idea of what she was hoping I would and wouldn’t do. It was a surreal experience and I haven’t got words to describe it. The whole second half was a bit of a blur.”
Your baseline movement is incredible – has it come naturally or on the back of a lot of hard work?
“It came naturally to me, but I also wanted to work really hard on that strength until it was almost unstoppable. I don’t think defenders expect that of someone my height and stature. I like to be quite creative and a bit different with the way I move.”
You were on the bench for a couple of games before the gold medal match. As a shooter, how do you keep yourself sharp if you’re needed on court?
“That was full credit to our preparation in the camps leading in. We did so many reps with so many combinations against so many styles of defence. So even though I hadn’t played much in the games leading in (to the gold medal match), I was still had really good role clarity which is a massive testament to Stacey (Marinkovich).
“Even though I hadn’t played she was very clear coming to me after each game with feedback about what my role would be if I had been on court, and what she needed from me. So I had very clear objectives in mind and she had a very clear game plan in mind that she wanted to put out on court.”
What level of confidence does that approach instil in you?
“Something the Diamonds celebrate is the diversity that we bring as a group. Stacey is very vocal that we’re all really different, and she was under no illusions that to get that gold medal she’d have to call on different styles and combinations of netball at times. We also had Covid and injuries to consider, so making sure we were adaptable was a big focus heading in at camp.”
You were the only Diamond without family at the Games. How challenging was that for you?
“It was a weird one. We were under really strict Covid protocols and I didn’t really feel the full significance till after we’d received our medals and we were able to head over to family and friends. It was sad not being able to look up and see my family in the crowd, but I was able to get them on a big family Facetime call.
“What really helped was that the other families and parents took me in as one of their own, and we celebrated as one big family afterwards. All the mums and dads became my mum and dad for the evening, and were saying how proud they were of us.
“It would have been just as hard for my parents and siblings sitting at home watching. I don’t think they will give up the opportunity if it comes around again for us.”
With Gretel now on maternity leave and Steph out of the English series, it leaves you as the most experienced shooter in the Diamonds.
“It’s a bit crazy. I had a conversation with Steph about it, and Grets and I have messaged a few times. They do provide a bit of comfort, but this is a really versatile and robust group. The full squad is in Canberra, and it gives people a chance to step up.
“I want to take that opportunity on and off court. I still feel like I’m learning so much every day from people around me, as it’s my first camp here at the AIS. The lack of experience in the shooting end isn’t lost on me, and especially in that England series when Steph steps out. So it’s a great opportunity to see some new talent and I’m looking forward to seeing that, and hopefully coming away with wins against New Zealand and England.”
With such limited time together, how do new combinations and the debutantes manage to gel quickly?
“It’s a challenge and we were quite lucky that we had a shooting club happening up in Queensland with myself, Steph, Donnell and Grets. With Grets falling out of that now, and including Kip (Kiera Austin) and Sophie (Dwyer) we’ve done heaps of ground work here at the AIS. Discussions around role clarity, that everyone is across the game plan, and the kind of netball that we want to put out on court against any opposition.
“So it’s about all of us connecting and getting the reps in, with people we don’t have as much time with. Making the most of our limited time together, and testing it out against the offline defence that New Zealand provide, and the more physical body on body defence from England.”
Stacey Marinkovich describes you as a very determined player who is constantly seeking to improve. Is that how you see yourself?
“It makes me feel really happy that Stacey describes me that way, because that’s how I feel in this environment. I’m really eager to learn, watch all the players here, perhaps pick apart bits of their game that I can implement into mine to make myself better.
“I’m also trying to enjoy my netball and connecting with the girls here because we’ve got some pretty incredible humans around. I feel like that’s something I’m trying to take into this series, really trying to enjoy the experience as well and make the most of the on and off court side.
I do feel very determined, and the Commonwealth Games added fire in our bellies for more success heading into another big year for us. It’s going to go so quickly and I can’t wait.”
Selected for the Commonwealth Games after several years in the Diamonds’ squad, it’s been a breakout year for Kate Moloney. Following the injury to fellow midcourter Paige Hadley, Moloney ran tirelessly at centre throughout the tournament, with very little down time. Known for her ball security, the midcourter incredibly gave away the ball just nine times during the tournament, at an average of just a smidge over one turnover per game. She also had Australia’s third highest number of pick-ups.
For someone who handles the ball so much, how did you manage to keep your turnovers at such a low level?
“The whole tournament (Commonwealth Games) was about trying to stay clear in the head, and so make the right decisions out on court. That can be really tough in such a pressured environment. We had to be particularly smart with the ball against Jamaica, who have such a tough defensive end. I was really lucky to have amazing players around me that helped with that.”
Once Paige Hadley was out through injury, there was an extra workload for the midcourters. How did you approach that?”
“When Paige did her calf, for us it was being able to recover really well. I’m really confident in my fitness, I’ve worked very hard on that, so it also helped me mentally knowing that I can run out games and back to back games.
“We had great depth in our squad and were really lucky with the combinations that we had to cover Paige. Being able to bring Kiera (Austin) into WA and Brazzy (Ash Brazill) into centre, and our defenders jumping into wing defence.”
There’s a lot of competition for midcourt spots. Do you remember your call from the selectors?
“I still remember getting the call – it was a dream come true. I’ve been in the Diamonds’ squad for a few years but never played in a Comm Games, so to get the call up was a really special moment. The competition for spots is so strong, and whenever you get the opportunity you have to take it with both hands, and I was fortunate to get that at Comm Games.”
You’ve been a one club player with the Vixens. How is the domestic environment different to the Diamonds?
“It is so different. I’ve been lucky to be a part of the Vixens since 2013 and you are training with girls day in and day out. The Diamonds on the other hand, players are coming in and out of the squad, and we have limited court time together. So we need to connect and build combinations quickly, and have really good communication, because we don’t have a daily environment. The times we get together are very special, and we have to be able to connect super quick.”
How can the Diamonds stay ahead of the pack leading into the World Cup?
“We’re really lucky we have such a strong squad, and these next couple of tours we have to keep building. We are going to be the hunted and so it’s about continuing to build, to grow new combinations, build on our attack and grow on defence.
“Being a part of the Diamonds environment and culture, we are wanting to constantly improve and be the best. To find little ways we can do that. Having won at Comm Games we are heading in the right direction, but we need to make sure we keep improving.
“We’ve had Stacey as head coach for just over 12 months and are really starting to see what kind of play she wants as well, and that’s continuing to grow.”
You co-captain with Liz Watson at the Vixens. How do you see her and Steph in that leadership role with the Diamonds?
“They’ve done an amazing job, and are both really natural leaders. They lead in different ways, but they both go out there on court and perform. We love playing underneath them.
“They’ve put their own twist on leadership, and they are creating a great environment that everyone wants to be part of.”
It’s fair to say that Sarah Klau is a big game player – consistently good, she steps up to new levels in critical moments. Injected onto court against Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games, the goal keeper played a key role in securing the Diamonds’ gold medal. Handed one of the toughest assignments in netball against the towering Jhaniele Fowler, Klau came up with some crucial gains to help turn the tide in Australia’s favour.
You came on from the bench in the gold medal match and played such an important role in the win. What was it like out on court?
“The Diamonds are a very competitive team and I want to be a supportive teammate. So every opportunity that I get, I want to do the best I can out on court. Coming second at the 2019 World Cup made us all really hungry for success. I wasn’t expecting to get court time, but I was ready to try and shut down Jhaniele and try and cause some confusion in the circle.”
How do you stay focused when you are on the bench, not knowing if you will get court time or not?
“That’s the joys of professional sport – you play your role whether that’s from the bench or for five minutes, or a whole game. At the elite level, I’ve had practice sitting on the bench and it’s definitely a skill. You have to watch the game, then come on and make an impact.
“It’s more mentally draining because you are watching the game so intently. But you always have to be ready.”
You’ve said in the past that self-belief is something you continue to work on. Do performances like this one add to your confidence?
At the start of the tournament Stacey (Marinkovich) told each of us that we were selected for a reason, we weren’t a tokenistic selection. Whether it’s starting or finishing off a game, or being an impact player, it’s so positive to know that Stacey has confidence in us all and isn’t afraid to make changes.”
Was the Commonwealth Games what you were expecting?
I knew it was a Team Australia event, and all the other sports were part of the bigger team. But it still came as a surprise when I went events like the baton relay announcement, or the village with individual athletes like swimmers and athletes. It was such a surreal feeling being alongside people I’d only seen on TV, all dressed in our uniforms, and being a part of something bigger than just netball.
“That surprised me, and one of my biggest highlights was the Opening Ceremony, to have the crowds back, to walk out side by side with so many incredible athletes. I had goosebumps, and I couldn’t sleep that night.”
There were eight Commonwealth Games debutantes in the Australian squad, making you one of the more senior players. How did that feel?
“I don’t feel like I’m a more experienced player per se. As Australians, we are so fortunate that week in, week out, we come up against formidable players, and especially for me as a goal keeper. Most of the world’s best shooters are playing in our league, and I’m really fortunate to have that experience.
“However, you can’t overthink going into an international series. Representing Australia is really special, but you still use the same netball skills. We might be working in different combinations from our domestic clubs, but we all take great confidence from playing in the best netball league in the world.”
What do you think are the Diamonds greatest strengths in the busy international season ahead of you?
We are so fortunate that we have such a strong domestic competition. Selection is very tight, girls are so talented and constantly improving, and I think it’s going to be exciting to try different combinations.
“With Covid we haven’t been able to put out consistent international series, so it feels so exciting and it’s such a privilege to be back playing sport. There’s new faces, potentially some debutantes, and you get so much energy from being around these girls.
“Hopefully we’ve (the Diamonds) created a culture where new players can fit in seamlessly, hit the court and feel like they’ve been here for years.”
It’s been a torrid few years with Covid, hubs, bubbles and border closures. How important was it to have a break after the Games?
“Having a full month off where you just travel or spend time with family and friends is so important. Mental burnout is quite common in sport, so you need to completely separate from it for a while. Having a refresh just makes you hungrier coming into a new series, and without that break it’s a bit more of a push.”
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.