Jess Anstiss, wing defence and sometimes centre for West Coast Fever during their multiple finals campaigns, gives insight into how athletes prepare for that critical time of the season, process the losses and celebrate the victories.
Debuting for the Fever in 2017, Anstiss has featured in each Fever final’s campaign: 2018, 2020, 2021 and 2022.
In 2023 she should play her 100th game in the minor semi-final against the Melbourne Vixens, the same team Fever beat to win last year’s championship.
“It feels a bit weird to be playing my 100th game in a final but it’s a great milestone to reach, it took a long time to get there but I am excited to play.”
Anstiss grew up in WA, and began her playing career for local netball association club Kalamunda in the Perth hills. Growing through the local pathways, she debuted in the Perth State School Girls team at 15. Earning several underage national team caps for under 17”s, 19”s and 21”s, she was ear-marked for success.
Whilst playing in the ANL for the Western Sting, she was called in as a replacement player for the West Coast Fever in 2016. Impressing on the court she was offered a permanent contract ahead of the 2017 Suncorp Super Netball season.
Whilst Anstiss is now a seasoned finals campaigner, championship success took a while to come.
”In my junior career I didn’t actually feature in many finals!” laughs Jess. “We were not very successful at the time in the WA pathways, but that has changed now.
”One that sticks in my mind is the under 17”s nationals in Darwin, where we came second. The highlight of my playing journey at the time, we celebrated like we won, when we got that silver medal!
“It’s awesome to now see our WA state teams making the grand finals, like they did this year, and the quality of WA netball being so high.
“During my time in state teams and ANL, the aim was to make finals and reach the top four.
“Most of my success has actually been with the West Coast Fever.”
Anstiss explains thanks to West Coast Fever”s multiple finals appearances, the approach for the season and the team’s mentality has changed.
“Now, from the start, the team addressed the elephant in the room, stating that we want to be in the finals and in the top two. That is what we strive for. In the first few seasons it was about the small wins and each game. Now, our focus from the start is to finish in the top two.
”It’s a balance to have the discipline through the year to be about the process, rather than thinking wholly about the outcome, which is a change from the early years of “game by game” mentality.
”It is pretty amazing how we have evolved over the years. There has been a real change in mindset, not only do we aim for the stars but we openly talk about it.”
West Coast Fever has featured in the finals series six times since the inaugural 2015 season of the Suncorp Super Netball league, making the team one of the most successful in the competition.
However, Anstiss’ approach to the business end of the season has changed with her finals experience.
“I’ve learnt over the last few years to enjoy the finals, rather than stressing about it. In my first few years I thought a lot about the significance of the occasion, which put pressure on me to play my best game.
”In the last two grand finals in particular, I learnt to enjoy the whole week. To try and live off that energy into the final game.
”Stacey Marinkovich once reminded us that some players, including herself as an athlete, never made finals, and this stuck with me. It’s pretty incredible that we are entering our fourth consecutive finals series, and taking the opportunity to acknowledge it and celebrate it is important.”
While West Coast Fever are the reigning premiers, it wasn’t an easy road to the top of the table, with losses in both the 2018 and 2020 grand finals.
“The 2020 loss was a hard one to take,” says Anstiss.
“With the uncertainty of the season due to COVID, the Hub, and having played well but just falling short was devastating. The fact it was our second shot at it, made me question whether I had missed my chance. Would I ever have the opportunity to play in another grand final?”
Working through a loss during the season is part of the process, but where do you go when there is no game the following week to target areas of improvement?
”After the grand final we make sure to honour the season. Losing is obviously the worst feeling, you need to celebrate that you made it that far. Don’t forget that feeling of loss though and the following year, use it as a lesson to keep you focused and motivated.
”You need to be able to have that hard review and uncomfortable conversations in a post grand final loss if you are to get the most out of it. To see the benefits of the loss and challenge yourself to go again.”
Looking back to last year’s maiden national league premiership, Anstiss felt more prepared and calm entering the game than any previous final.
”Í wasn’t nervous compared to previous grand final appearances, I was excited and couldn’t wait to get out and play in front of the Perth crowd.
”That day I felt that everything was falling into place, we had the home final, regardless of the controversy, as we’d earned it. We had a great training week, and there were signs everywhere – songs that came on the radio and everything.
”It was the right day, right time, and when Courtney got that first deflection in the first passage of play I thought ‘ we are on here!” and we were away.
“Everything clicked at the right time.”
No matter the outcome of a finals campaign Anstiss gives the same advice for all players in the the last dance,
‘Take a moment to stop and take it all in and enjoy it’.”