In the early days, before Liz Watson became the athlete we know today, she was a just a kid who played at her local netball club because her mum did; and it was that early encouragement and unwavering support from her mum, Manuela, that has shaped Watson into one of the best netballers Australia has ever produced.
Check out Liz’s video below as part of the, Swysh Mother’s Day series.
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FROM THE BENCH TO THE BIG TIME
Liz Watson has been a household netball name for a number of years, and fans of the game have watched her grow before their eyes. From when the 19 year old was thrust into the Melbourne Vixens camp as a full-time squad member in 2014, to the moment she was told in 2021 that she was to be the next Diamonds Captain, there has always been something special about Liz Watson.
She is not the loudest player in the team and her leadership style is reserved, preferring to lead by strong actions rather than loud words. Watson is not flashy or gaudy in her performances yet her impact each time she steps out on court is immense, often measured by leading specific statistics and winning Most Valuable Player accolades.
After sitting out the entire 2021 season with a foot injury she had carried since her junior days that ultimately required surgery, and watching from the sidelines as her Vixens slipped from premiership winners in 2021 to finishing bottom of the ladder the following year, season 2022 could not come around fast enough for Watson. And she has gone from the bench to the big-time with a jam-packed domestic and international netball calendar in 2022.
“I was so excited to get started. I play a team sport and so I love being around the girls. Last year I was lucky enough to still be involved with Simone [McKinnis] and the coaching side of things, which was a whole new experience,” Watson said. “I am glad that I had the surgery, it had to be done. I knew there was a big couple of years coming up in netball and of course I want to be involved in as much as I can with the Diamonds and the Vixens.”
REDEMPTION AT BIRMINGHAM
Kicking off the start of a jam-packed 2022 international campaign was the Quad Series played between Australia, New Zealand, England and South Africa. The Diamonds made a triumphant return to the world stage in January with a 58-46 win against England. “I am happy that we started the year off well, but we know that there is a lot of netball ahead.
“I think there is close to 20 international matches this year, which is almost like another season on top of the one we are currently playing [Super Netball] so yes, that is a lot of netball but I am excited to be a part of it.”
With the Diamonds Squad announced recently, the squad of 18 will ruthlessly be cut to 12 before any plane tickets are given out for the Commonwealth Games that are being held in Birmingham (July 28 – August 8). Watson says the competition as to which players will ultimately board the plane is intense.
“It is extremely tight, even to simply make the squad was a massive achievement with the form of some of the players in the [Super Netball] comp that have missed out. It is going to be tight across all positions and it’s a hard job for selectors because they want to be able to pick players who are playing well, who can work in combinations and they’ll look back at our Quad Series as well. I think the 12 that get selected will be extremely proud and honoured and I know that they are going to be the best 12 to represent us.”
As recently as a year ago there were concerns about the depth of shooting circle options for Australia. Recently, former Diamonds captain Caitlin Bassett announced her retirement after 18 years in the sport, and the previous year the vast experience of Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip were also lost. However, Watson is confident in the talent that has been identified in the squad and excited about the inclusion of First Nations athlete and Noongar woman, Donnell Wallam.
“We see with Donnell coming into the squad that she has been performing extremely well in SSN [Super Netball], which has been amazing to see. I think what we may lack in experience we find in enthusiasm and the ‘want to win’. We have players like Gretel, who plays with such freedom, we have the likes of Sophie Dwyer who just shoots 2-point shots the whole time and they play with such confidence, which is so important for a shooter.
“There is also Steph Wood who brings so much knowledge and a calm head, she can really control our shooting end. There are some great combinations in there.”
Being bestowed with the honour of captaining the Diamonds team is for players with broad shoulders who understand the value and title of the position. Previous players who have held the captaincy are names like Joyce Brown, Norma Plummer, Anne Sargeant, Liz Ellis and Laura Geitz – literal netball royalty; and it is not an appointment that Watson takes for granted.
“It is a massive honour. I think it really hit me when we walked out for our first game at the Quad Series. I realised how special that moment was and how I would remember it forever. We [the Diamonds] want to win the pinnacle events and I want to help drive this team to do that.
“I want to be someone who leads by example, who other players want to play with. We have a really young, exciting and fresh group and it almost makes my job fun and easy. Everyone has bought in and everyone is on board, we definitely want to win that gold medal later in the year.”
Vanquishing personal demons on the netball court in is on the bucket list of things to do while at these Commonwealth Games. Beaten on the buzzer by a single goal (52-51) after a brilliant performance by the English Roses at the 2018 Games, Watson says she and the team are mentally ready for the challenge.
“We have been preparing as we go. Stacey has not been shy talking about the Commonwealth Games and talking about how we are still ranked number one in the world rankings, but how we don’t necessarily feel like we are because we don’t have the gold medals from Comm Games and the World Cup.
“But it is also important that we acknowledge the other countries who are right there. Once you get to a Comm Games everyone is primed, every country has their best 12, so we can’t forget New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica. Going to England, we would love to win gold [against England] and do what they did to us!”
SUPER NETBALL ROLLS ON
The current Super Netball Season is one like no other – while there are no hubs this year and no need for teams to relocate, there is the constant and looming threat of players being unavailable due to the Covid-19 Health and Safety protocols and guidelines set down by the league. Despite the challenges this presents, Watson is happy with the season that the Vixens have produced so far. Currently second on the ladder, conceding only two loses in the first seven rounds, Watson suggests this season and the final ladder positions still have a long way to go.
“It is very clear that there is no ‘bottom of the ladder team’, everyone if fighting hard for their position and it is a very tight competition at the moment. You need to be at your best to win because it is such a tight competition. As soon as a team gets confidence, or gets a run on they seem to carry that momentum into the next week as well. It is about taking those wins when you get them because they are hard to come by.”
Almost every Super Netball team has been hit with players who have been affected by Covid, either by players having the virus or through being close contacts who have had to isolate. The Vixens have had at least two disrupted weeks where regular squad members have been ruled out of game day. Trying to prepare for what each week might bring or what combinations might be on court is the challenge of season 2022, Watson says, “It is tricky and different clubs have been hit at different times, and you do wonder when it might be your club or who is going to be next.
“We have dealt with that the past couple of weeks, but Simone has been great in including our whole squad, the 15 of us at most sessions as well. We have seen those members of the team come in quite easily to the group. We have a big focus on training across different positions. The season moves so quickly that you just have to get on with it.”
STRONG FEMALE SUPPORT
Hailing from a big family, Watson knows the importance of being able to spend time with those she cherishes most. The 2020/2021 netball seasons saw many players live and play away from their family and friends due to Covid-19. Watson’s mum, Manuela, is her biggest supporter and she loves being able to watch her daughter play home games at John Cain Arena. “Mum will be at the netball for sure on Saturday when we play the Firebirds, and then on Mother’s Day on Sunday we will most likely go out for breakfast and do something special.”
Speaking fondly of her relationship with her mum, she recognises her success is largely due to the sacrifices and time her mum put into her fledgling career many years ago. “Mum has been an awesome support for such a long time. She is the reason I started playing netball and she would drive me everywhere, stay up late and make all the dinners which allowed me to train and play before I had my license. She always took everything in her stride. I realise it now and appreciate that more now that I am older. Mum always knows what to say after a good or bad game and she’s always just let me be me.”
Celebrating and reflecting on the strong female support in her life as Mother’s Day approaches, Watson also credits former team mate and now life-long friend Bianca Chatfield, as someone who has been a constant in her life, and someone she can always turn to when she needs advice.
“When I started at the Vixens, she was the captain there at the time, she took myself and Kate Moloney under her wing and showed us what it meant to be an elite netballer. But she has also been able to show me about life off the court. She is very balanced in her life with sport and the study that she did and we are still very good friends today. She is someone that I call all the time if I ever have a question or any concern, she gives the best advice and is always there. Netball brought us together but we will definitely be friends forever.”
MAKE MUM FEEL SPECIAL THIS MOTHER’S DAY WITH SWYSH
There is still time for fans to connect Mum with her favourite sport’s star this Mother’s Day with Swysh. Head to heyswysh.com for more information!