Like a good loaf of sourdough bread, Laura Scherian’s netball journey has taken a long time to rise. The dynamic Sunshine Coast Lightning midcourter first stepped onto a professional netball court in 2007 in the now-defunct Commonwealth Bank Trophy. And, after featuring in only three games during the 2010 season for the Queensland Firebirds, it took six before she got another shot at the big leagues.
For anyone else, the continual lack of forward-motion in pursuit of an athletic dream would have induced rage and defeat. But not for Laura, who took it all in her stride. “I looked everywhere for those six years (since finishing with the Firebirds) just trying to get a contract. I contacted both Australian and New Zealand teams to see if there were any opportunities available. I guess it just wasn’t the right timing for me. There were so many amazing athletes and so few spots available.”
“Rejection emails and calls included things like, “our roster is full,” “you’re not exactly what we’re looking for at this point in time” or questions such as, “do you have a New Zealand Passport?” so not to count as an import.”
In the end, Laura surmised that it was the universe’s plan for her. “In the end, it turned out better for me because I am now up here with the Lightning and having the time of my life. I believe everything does happen for a reason. At the time, I was disappointed as you would expect however, we don’t get much say in when opportunities come and when they go. What’s important is being prepared for when they do appear.”
The hiatus from professional netball allowed Laura to explore her passion for food and nutrition, which led her to complete a Bachelor of Health Science and Naturopathy to become a qualified naturopath. “I first chose to go into the field due to its holistic approach to health. I am very passionate about taking preventative measures to stop lifestyle diseases. Of particular interest was how food could be used as medicine I have made an effort to implement that throughout my life and being a bit more balanced has made a difference as well.”
Laura’s love of food and nutrition has been embraced by her Lightning family. So much so, that they have helped develop and promote her side hustle, Shez’s Kitchen. “I love to cook, and my kitchen is where I am the happiest. Shez’s Kitchen came about because I wanted a platform to share my love of cooking and my passion for wholesome food and to share my recipes with people. I hope it inspires interest in wholesome food.”
Laura’s Instagram account has a relatively even split of photos of her two loves: netball and food. But it’s the delicious food puns that genuinely show the joy cooking brings her and the pleasure that comes with sharing the experience with her friends, family and fans.
Her passion was unmissable when she explained, “I think the love of food is becoming lost, with all the easy to prepare and pre-packaged meals that are available now. People are forgetting the experience of preparing and then actually sitting down and enjoying the meal together, and I would like to inspire that again.”
The way that the Sunshine Coast Lightning have embraced Laura’s unique passions and journey were some of the reasons she was elated to join the club. She noted that the club was made up of personalities that were vetted to ensure a synergy right from the start. “The people that are chosen to fill our club are definitely based on personalities and who is the right fit for our club and the environment.”
“I think everyone feels so valued and that is when you want to commit to something and really work for something. We are all able to be our unique selves, and everyone has a voice and the opportunity to speak their mind. That creates an environment where there is so much buy-in. Everyone works so hard for and with each other because they are there for the same purpose and that creates and really relaxed environment as well.”
At the end of 2018, after winning back-to-back premierships, the Lightning lost four of their foundation athletes. Many netball fans and critics wrote them off at the start of the 2019 season deducing that they were in a rebuilding phase. But the Lightning didn’t see it that way. Instead, they used it as an opportunity to freshen things up, but also reintroduce a legend of the game in Laura Langman. The shuffle forced Laura out of position from her usual centre to wing attack.
“I don’t think it was even a discussion, it was just what happened. When you look at our different combinations, what was best for our team this year was for me to be in wing attack. At the start, I found wing attack a lot more stressful, at that level, because there is a big difference between the two roles and finding and understanding that again took a little while. But now, I am playing very comfortably in wing attack and am really enjoying the challenge of it. So now I don’t really care where I am put. I am happy to play either. But, to be honest, getting the opportunity to play in wing attack this year has also shown that I can be a more versatile player.”
By the end of the season, Laura had proven that she was just as formidable in the wing attack position as the competitions best. In fact, by the end of Round 14 she topped the league for centre receives beating second-placed, Diamonds vice-captain Liz Watson, by 53 passes. Laura also finished in the fourth spot for goal assists, one place ahead of teammate Steph Wood.
Laura’s smooth transition to the new role and flexibility of being able to swing back to centre if need be caught the eye of the Samsung Diamonds selectors and earned Laura her first call up for national dutie. Of course, Laura has already represented Australia as a member of the 2018 Fast5 Flyers. But, being in the Australian Diamond’s team is a whole new level enveloped in history and tradition, which makes it all the more special for Laura.
Speaking of the phone call from Diamonds coach, Lisa Alexander, Laura laughed as she admitted to asking Lisa to repeat herself. “I was in shock at first, and I couldn’t really hear her properly through my happy tears. I could have swum home there were that many tears. I had to actually ask her to repeat herself to confirm what I actually made. It was like, ‘So I am actually in the team and in the squad?’. She was like, ‘Yes, Laura, you are in the team.’ It was definitely one special phone call. I would say it is on par with the one from Noels back in 2016 giving me the contract with Lightning. But then, Lisa was like, ‘Don’t tell anyone … but, you can tell your mum.”
Laura’s mum, Brenda, is a former coach of the Canberra Darters and Queensland Firebirds and gave Laura her first taste of netball in her early childhood. Like many netball journeys, Laura’s began as the dreaded fill-in player, this time for her sister’s team. Laura was only four years old and by far the smallest on the court, but she is adamant she was hooked from that very first game.
Brenda has been by Laura’s side ever since; sometimes as a coach but more recently as a spectator. “She is very experienced in coaching. Obviously, in Victoria, she coached a lot of underage teams and at the national league level as well. For me, she has just been so supportive of whatever sport I do. I played basketball at a very similar level until I was 18 years old before deciding to continue with netball. Mum was just awesome. She took me to all my games and all my trainings and has just always been there for me as a mum, more so than a coach.”
When Laura takes to the court for the first time in her Diamonds dress, it will be as the oldest Diamonds debutant in history. But that record is not one which Laura will focus on, let alone was even aware of. “Really? There you go, I get a record. I don’t really care about it, to be honest. I feel the same passion and excitement for the game as I did when I was ten years old playing Saturday netball. To me, that is all that matters. Age is literally a number on the page and a bit of extra life experience, so I really don’t care about it.”
But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t given thought to her age and the point at which her career has spiked. “To be honest, I haven’t given my age a lot of thought. However, the way I see it is, although on paper I may be 31, on court I feel my ‘netball age’ is considerably younger. I have had six years without playing at SSN level. Physically, I have had less wear and tear on my body. Mentally, I have not had the continual fatigue of professional sport..”
In an article she wrote for Athlete’s Voice in August 2018, Laura spoke about harnessing her nerves and ambition when she was given her second chance at professional netball. She confessed that during her time with the Firebirds she would turn up to training with her stomach in knots. Reflecting on the experience now, Laura attributes her life experience as the reason she was able to harness the tension during her early days with the Lightning.
“It has probably also come with the confirmation of what is and what isn’t important for me. And as I said, I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and working to find that out is sometimes hard. But, for me now, it is really about enjoying the experience and the journey around my netball.”
Laura is well aware that injury may have played a role in her national selection after incumbent wing attack Kelsey Browne was ruled out for a year. “Kelsey’s injury was devastating. She is one of my mates and a former (Lightning) teammate. She has performed so well for the Diamonds over the past 12 months so they would be massive shoes to try and fill. So, I’m not even thinking of it that way. I am just coming into the Diamonds as Shez, so that is who I will be, and I will just bring my unique self and my own individual style of game and just work out where that fits in with the girls on court.
Laura’s Lightning teammate and Diamonds stalwart, Steph Wood, has elected to take a break from Australian duties for the remainder of 2019. But that hasn’t stopped Laura from seeking Steph’s advice about her upcoming tour. “We have had a little chat about it. I have asked her a few questions, and we are going to catch up over a coffee to talk some more.”
“To be honest, all the girls have been awesome, and I have chatted to a few of them already. Obviously, with Caitlin Bassett being a former teammate for a couple of years and having known her for a long time because we played 21 and under together. I am looking forward to going on tour with her again.”
When asked what it will be like to play against Silver Ferns’ captain Laura Langman and coach Noeline Taurua during the intense rivalry of the Constellation Cup, Laura was unsure. “I was thinking about this the other day, I am unsure what it will be like. I have watched Noels coach and Lauz play, respectively, for the Ferns and Lightning over the past year. I have so much admiration and respect for them both. However, when I have the Diamonds dress on, they will just be the coach and centre for the opposing team. But, I will totally sneak in a hug postpost-match.”
Laura’s journey has been unlike many other athletes who toil through the grassroots system and then somewhat easily transition to the upper echelons of competition. She will be the first to admit that it was tough mentally but has allowed her to discover a unique perspective and appreciation for every opportunity that has come her way.
“I think team sports are something so special that they can be taken for granted at times. And a lot of people come in younger and set these goals and dreams. They are good in that it gives you something to focus on and aspire to, however, a lot of the time you miss a lot of the real stuff and the special moments and little things that happen along the way. They are more of what you play for and why you play a team sport.”
“The external factors that can impact on personal success, especially in a team sport, make it really hard if you don’t enjoy it along the way. You can control your own efforts, and you can get the most out of the opportunities that you have been given, but I don’t think you can entirely control your own destiny when it comes to a team sport.”
Her advice to those that are struggling through setbacks or rejections is to not miss the journey. “At the start, it is easy to be consumed with the measurable aspects like being able to perfect this skill, lift that in the gym or sprint this fast. I think there are so many other significant and special moments to experience that will pass you by if you are that laser-focused. They are the real things you will remember when you stop and look back. So, yeah, don’t be so focused on the goal that you miss the journey.”