NS Exclusive: Kiera Austin – Diamond #180 “Calm, Smart and Passionate”

NS Exclusive: Kiera Austin – Diamond #180 “Calm, Smart and Passionate”

“Never in my wildest dreams as a little girl did I think I would be able to do all of the things that I am doing now.”

On first meeting Kiera Austin, albeit over the phone, it is obvious that she has a genuine love for the game of netball.

Austin says she “fell in love with the competitive side of netball” when she first started playing at six years old in the Ryde-Eastwood competition in northern Sydney, encouraged after first watching her older sister play. As Austin moved through the representative netball path, she was always wondering “what’s next?” What’s next included playing in the Australian Under 21s side, the Australian Netball League competition and Australian Fast 5 team before being called up to the GIANTS in the Suncorp Super Netball (SSN). Now she is an Australian Diamond, debuting at the recent 2021 Constellation Cup played in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The journey has not always been smooth sailing but Austin’s unflappable poise on court shows how she takes it all in her stride and continues to build in her skill and confidence as a player.
One of Austin’s mentors through her netball journey has been former GIANTS’ and Diamonds’ goal attack, Susan Pettit. Growing up Austin watched Pettit as a star for the Swifts “I just want to be
exactly like her”. Pettit taught Austin a lot about being an effective Goal Attack, particularly during their time together at the GIANTS. Even after retiring from professional netball in 2018, Pettit
continues to give Austin encouragement from the sidelines, including sending a quick text to wish Austin luck before her Diamonds’ debut.

Similar to Pettit, Austin is keen to encourage more young girls into netball and often helps out at clinics run by Pettit and some of her other GIANTS’ teammates like Sam Poolman. As a professional athlete Austin reflects, “it is hard for young girls growing up as they are exposed to so much more in the media about how they should look and how they should be doing things.”

Being part of the clinics is important to Austin as, “I just love seeing them come across as more confident or ask me questions about how to be a great athlete as they are so keen and capable of
doing that stuff.”

Kiera Austin (GIANTS) is challenged by Shamera Sterling (Thunderbirds), 2020. Image Sue McKay

Diamonds debut at the Constellation Cup

When Austin received the call from current coach, Stacey Marinkovich, to join the squad it was not Austin’s first experience with the Diamonds.

Austin was elevated to the Diamonds’ squad in January 2019 during the Quad series as a replacement player for the injured captain, Caitlin Bassett. Austin recalls the whirlwind experience of
receiving an unexpected call from Lisa Alexander at 9pm at night while she was at a friend’s house. Austin recounts that when she answered the phone rather casually, “I didn’t have the number saved. I definitely had the number but I don’t know why it didn’t come up as Lisa Alexander”.

After a short conversation and some hurried packing and planning, the next day Austin flew to the UK to join the Diamonds’ squad. Austin did not realise she would be sitting on the backbench for the tour. However, for the last two games Austin moved to the starting twelve due to injuries suffered by teammates, Gabi Simpson and Courtney Bruce.

By the time Austin debuted as Diamond #180 at the recent Constellation Cup she was not just sitting on the front bench but was part of the starting seven at the goal attack position and continued in that role for all four matches. Two key shooters for the Diamonds, Gretel Bueta and Steph Wood, were unavailable for the four games so it was clear that Austin would be an integral part of the
Australian side’s shooting end. “When I got to the Constellation Cup I was so excited…it was a balance between not being too nervous and being ready to hit the court because I wanted to win”.

Kiera Austin coming under pressure from Jane Watson of the Silver Ferns. Image Steve McLeod

Walking out onto court was a surreal experience and Austin felt buoyed to have her teammates supporting her. “It is hard to describe as I was feeling a lot of emotions…once I walked out there, I
had CBass behind me and Liz (Watson) and Kate (Maloney) in front of me. I was surrounded by such phenomenal netballers that calmed me down a little bit and once that first centre pass went through I thought, ‘okay I am here’.”

In the first two minutes of play there was a bit of a scuffle for the ball in the midcourt with Austin knocking headfirst into Silver Ferns wing attack, Gina Crampton. Austin recalls that she thought at the time “Oh God this is what international netball is like”. After that Austin continued to build on her performance across the four games.

Each game was competitive, with the Diamonds winning game two, but in the three other games the Diamonds were defeated by the Silver Ferns, lacking the ability to come back against a fit and fierce New Zealand side. Moving forward one of the things Austin thinks they need to focus on is how to get out of the “momentum swings” that are going the way of the other side as, unlike SSN, there is no ability to call a time out to try and break the other team’s rhythm.

Austin has played under Marinkovich before, in the 2018 Under 19s Australian development squad and also the 2018 Australian Fast Five team. Austin admires Marinkovich in how she approaches games and coaching, as well as understanding the need for a balance between work and home life. “She just says enough pre-game to let us focus on what we need to do.”

One of the other exciting parts has been working with Diamonds’ specialist coach, Sharelle McMahon. Austin recalls having her own “fan girl moment” when she found out about McMahon’s
role.

“The most recent Diamonds’ shooter that I looked up to was definitely Sharelle McMahon and I remember watching the video of her shooting that shot and just looking so calm and in control”
(referring to when McMahon scored the final goal on the buzzer during the 1999 World Championship grand final allowing Australia to defeat New Zealand 42 to 41)

“I knew that she (McMahon) wasn’t going to come away with us but even at that first pre-departure camp I told myself to go up and make a good impression, take everything that she says on board…I think she is awesome and has such a knowledge about the sport.”

Kiera Austin and Cara Koenen formed a mobile and new look Australian shooting circle at the Constellation Cup. Image Steve McLeod

Under normal circumstances, the Diamonds would have been midway through a four-year cycle, building towards the 2022 Commonwealth Games, and the 2023 Netball World Cup. Instead, they
found themselves sidelined due to COVID-19, with the Constellation Cup their first match play in a year and a half. Despite the many obstacles they faced in the leadup, commentary around the
Diamonds’ performance was harsh, particularly on social media. Austin tries to ignore the negative comments and focuses on how she can improve going forwards.

“I don’t go out looking for comments, but it is really hard to avoid it if you are just going through your normal (Facebook and Instagram) feed. I think that was one of the biggest things I struggled
with, so on this tour after a game I didn’t look at my phone because I didn’t want to see anything whether it was positive or negative. I knew that in our inner circle we were having the
conversations we needed to have.”

The personal criticism and a 3-1 loss in the series “adds so much fuel to the fire!” as Austin continues to develop her game.

GIANTS 2021

The last two seasons for the GIANTS have been difficult with several controversies in the 2020 season, including Kristiana Manu’a being sent off during round 5 against the Sunshine Coast
Lightning and the benching of Caitlin Bassett for the latter half of the season. Bassett has moved to play for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic club in the ANZ Premiership for the 2021 season. Austin has the serious task of looking after Bassett’s beloved pet rabbit Jojo in her absence and says of her good friend that, “I have no doubt that she will play really well in New Zealand.”

Another difficulty was being in the Queensland netball hub for the entire season, as it meant Austin and the team were away from family and friends and also their fan base. “We missed having a crowd and meeting our fans and our members…I don’t think we realised how much our members and our fans made an impact at games”. This season Austin is looking forward to being back before their home crowd.

Covid enforced hub life during the 2020 season meant the GIANTS were unable to play in front of their fans and families. Austin on right. Image Sue McKay.

In the pre-season, the GIANTS have been training hard to try and regain their successes from earlier SSN seasons (playing in the 2017 grand final against the Sunshine Coast Lightning and minor
premiers in 2018). The majority of the team has played together for a number of years now, giving them the ability to read each other’s game and play instinctively together. This, combined with the supportive team environment, will hopefully lead to better results in the 2021 season.

So far the team’s hard work has been paying off. In a recent pre-season match against the Sunshine Coast Lightning the GIANTS hummed along nicely, scoring 29 goals in the final quarter, to record a decisive 80-50 goal win. More importantly, the connections on court looked crisp and well-rehearsed.

The GIANTS’ first game at their new netball home, Ken Rosewall Arena, is in Round 2 this season, taking on the Collingwood Magpies. Austin is excited to get back out on court and to meet with their fans, including some of the “cool netty nerds” who know everything about the game and the players.

Kiera Austin can play across three positions – goal shooter, goal attack and wing attack. Image Marcela Massey

Future Diamonds legend

Austin is someone who exudes calm and tends not to show her emotions during games.

“I’ve always done that. Dad always says to me (quoting Muhammed Ali), ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,’ because it looks like I am just doing my own thing and then when it really matters putting (my) foot down. I think it sums up how I play really nicely.”

Austin is fast when the ball is transitioning down the court but also has the “netball smarts” that allow her to think strategically while she is playing. She says her defensive game comes from her
early years playing centre.

While Austin’s emotions do not always show on her face, she processes what is happening on court internally, trying to work out the best plays. There are things to work on, like her accuracy rate and ability to “turn and shoot” at such a high intensity level but with her natural flair for netball this can only get better over time. Her preparation is also a family affair as her older sister “watches every game and sends me commentary…she is very honest with me”

At 185 centimetres, Austin is one of the new breed of specialist goal attacks – combining strong defensive capabilities with skill and poise in attack. Looking ahead Austin is focused on solidifying
her starting seven position for the GIANTS and running at 100% for the full length of the game. With Bueta and Wood back in the mix, places in the Diamonds will be more competitive, but Austin will grasp every opportunity she can take.

And in good news for fans, Austin says, “I think there are really promising times for the future.”

A strong defensive game is one of Kiera Austin’s assets. Image Steve McLeod.

Shooting for goal. Constellation Cup 2021. Image Steve McLeod

About the Author: