Spirits are high at West Coast Fever, after significantly strengthening their playing roster for 2014. Australian Diamond Natalie Medhurst has committed to a two year deal, together with Chelsea Pitman, Ashleigh Brazill and Josie Janz. Australian U21 Kaylia Stanton will also join the team, while Caitlin Bassett, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Kate Beveridge, Chanel Gomes and Courtney Bruce remain under contract.
The signing of Medhurst is a coup for the club which, apart from Catherine Cox, has struggled to attract a top-flight goal attack in previous seasons. Medhurst spent two years playing for the Adelaide Thunderbirds following the inception of the ANZ Championships in 2008, before moving to the Queensland Firebirds for the next four years. She was part of their undefeated 2011 premiership team, and shared the leagueâ€™s MVP Award with Leana de Bruin in the same year.
The goal attack went on to play a pivotal role in the Australian Diamonds successful 2011 World Championships campaign. In the absence of Sharelle McMahon, injured earlier in the year, she played in every game, and was voted player of the match in the preliminary, semi and grand final matches. Medhurst has long been known for her work ethic outside the circle and elusiveness on court. Often the shortest player in the attacking third, her presence is commanding as she cuts and slices through the goal circle with ease.
So how did the move come about? Once players were allowed to be contacted, Fever coach Norma Plummer phoned Medhurst to see if she would consider a move to the west. â€œIt came out of the blue, to be honest. It was very surprising, and has been a very tough decision to make. I did a lot of thinking about what challenges I needed as a player. I spoke to a number of people, and sat down with my husband to weigh up what I wanted to do and what I still wanted to achieve. I didnâ€™t make the decision until two days ago, on Tuesday.â€
Joining the Fever was based primarily on goals that Medhurst has set herself. â€œI need to continue to develop my game and challenge myself. I love Romelda and playing with her, but I thought I was starting to become a bit more of a feeder. Someone said to me that I really wasnâ€™t going to improve much more, but I very strongly disagree. At any age a player can continue to develop their playing skills, the impact that they can have, and work on their strength and conditioning.â€
The prospect of teaming up again with the Fever coach was a big attraction for Medhurst. â€œWe have won two World Championships together. I respect her immensely and am really looking forward to working with her. I know that she is going to push me in any way she can. She loves to see players work and improve. She wants the best for the Fever, and so do I.â€
The pair agree that Medhurst still has progress to make. Plummer stated, â€œThe connection that she had then (in the 2011 World Championships) with Caitlin was very good and we want to expand that while also helping her improve her game in areas where we think we can, while making sure everything we put together works towards helping Fever go further in this competition… I think there is still an area of her game that can be opened up.â€
Medhurst has identified components of her game to focus on. â€œI want to work on my creativity, agility and movement inside the circle. There are different ways that I can open up a goal shooter. I want to keep working on my play when I have that tight one-on-one defence against me, that is another area that I can improve on.â€
In the final of the 2011 World Championships, Medhurst was joined on court by Chelsea Pitman at WA, and Caitlin Bassett at GS. The Fever line-up for 2014 will see this partnership renewed. Pitman, who is also leaving the Firebirds, was dropped from the Diamonds squad this season. An often underrated player, her game features strong defensive skills, precision passing into the circle, and the ability to work fluently with her goal attack and centre.
The combination of Medhurst and Bassett at franchise level for the next two years is sure to have Australian selectors rubbing their hands together with glee. Medhurst said, â€œWorking daily with Caitlin, hopefully that will be helpful for the Diamonds ahead of the (2014) Commonwealth Games and (2015) World Championships. So a big part of this move was for me to create that combination and to keep developing together as a partnership.â€
Medhurst was also pleased to see Ashleigh Brazill re-sign with the Fever for two years, and rates the younger player highly. â€œAsh made in into the Aussie team last year, but then suffered her knee injury and had a further ankle injury this year which was unfortunate. She is such an exciting player, incredibly athletic and hard working. I was interested to see what she would be doing over the next couple of years, so it is terrific that she is back with the Fever. I think that is one of the exciting things about Fever. There are some great players with a lot of promise. It will be exciting to work alongside them.â€
Fever shooter Kate Beveridge and Medhurst were teammates for two years at the Adelaide Thunderbirds. It is a friendship that the pair will enjoy renewing. Medhurst said, â€œI believe we can play some quality netball together. She is a completely different sort of shooter to Caitlin, and has a lot of movement to her game. Having such a great friend over in Perth is something that I am looking forward to.â€
Western Australia is a place that Medhurst is keen to learn more about. â€œI havenâ€™t spent much time there. The year I got married to Travis we spent about 5 days in Margaret River, and a couple in Perth. Itâ€™s a beautiful place, and I am looking forward to getting over there with the girls.â€ The move to Perth wonâ€™t take place until the New Year. â€œTravis and I will stay in Brisbane until then, and then come over together. However I will pop over if I can after the international series to meet people and check out where we will be training.â€ In addition to her netball career, Medhurst has been working in marketing for a legal firm in Brisbane. She and her husband have not yet started looking for work in Perth, but shortly will start to consider their options.
While her departure from the Firebirds is a great loss for that franchise, Medhurst hopes for understanding from her former teammates. â€œI have been as open and honest as I can with everyone, particularly the Firebirds. I am not leaving Qld with any ill feeling. Itâ€™s purely a move for me to create that combination with Caitlin and continue to develop my game and challenge myself. Itâ€™s been such a tough decision to make. I am going to miss playing with those girls. The supporters here have been amazing, and the board and staff from Netball Queensland have been incredible. They took me in four years ago, and have really helped me out. We have won a premiership together, and hopefully I have had some sort of impact on the team. I leave with such wonderful memories and wish them nothing but the best. Except when they play the Fever, of course,â€ she laughs.
Bassett, Medhurst (squad members) and Brazill (invitee) recently attended the week-long Diamonds selection camp in Canberra. Although tiring, it was an experience that Medhurst enjoyed. â€œThe camp had a very different vibe this year. It might have been because some of the senior players werenâ€™t there. (Cox withdrew, von Bertouch retired, Corletto injured, Gerrard transferred to Rugby 7s) We had some younger players and they bring so much energy and enthusiasm with them. A lot of the girls started getting more involved and expressing their thoughts, which is great to see. The feeling at camp was really good.â€ Medhurst believes that there is an exciting two years ahead. â€œWe are really feeling that this is the start of our preparation for the Commonwealth Games. We did all our screenings, our fat tests, etc. The fitness testing was terrific. I did a couple of PBs (personal bests) over my last tests, and I think there were general improvements and PBs across the board. The coaches and strength and conditioning staff were extremely pleased with that.â€
The recent retirement of Diamonds captain Natalie von Bertouch will inevitably leave a void in the Australian mid court. Medhurst understands only too well the significance of that loss. â€œPeople who were around at the 2011 World Championships know what it feels like, because we lost Sharelle just beforehand. But what we learnt from that is that it is a big opportunity for other girls to really challenge themselves and take that next step up. You will never replace a Nat von Bertouch, we donâ€™t have anyone like her. But all these girls bring something completely different. Itâ€™s an exciting time for them. And with Nat, Mon (Gerrard) and Cath (Cox) not being in this series, we all have to show some leadership out there on court.”
Following the spate of high profile signings, it is worth mentioning that the best decision Fever have made in recent years was in pursuing Norma Plummer to coach the franchise. The former Australian Diamonds and U21 coach, who started her tenure in the west in 2012, has enormous credibility with players. To work with such a mastermind on a daily basis has been a welcome opportunity for both Western Australian players and coaches, and those considering a move to Perth. She is contracted through 2014, with an option to re-sign for 2015.
With ten players now on the roster and Verity Simmons departure to the Firebirds, Fever still have two places to fill in their 12 person squad. Player negotiations are continuing. In other news, Courtney Bruce and Kaylia Stanton will shortly take part in the World Youth Netball Championship, to be held in Great Britain. Bruce and Ashley Brazill have both been selected in the Australian Fast5 team, which will compete in Novemberâ€™s Fast5 Netball World Series in New Zealand.