Mon | Jun 17, 2019

Orville Higgins | Time is right for Sunshine Girls

Published:Saturday | May 25, 2019 | 12:24 AM-
England goalkeeper Ama Agbeze (left) tries her best to intercept a pass to Jamaica’s Jhaniele Fowler (centre) while goal defence Layla Guscoth looks on during the teams’ third and final Lasco Sunshine Series game at the National Indoor Sports Centre on October 15, 2018.
National senior netball team head coach Marvette Anderson (centre) and assistant coach Winston Nevers (right) give instructions to Jhaniele Fowler during a Lasco Sunshine Series game against England at the National Indoor Sports Centre on October 13, 2018.
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Like most Jamaicans, I have lived through many frustrating games by the Sunshine Girls over the years. At the world tournaments, we have regularly come close, only to falter at the semi-final stage. Despite our obvious quality, we have never been able to make the final at any senior global netball event. It has been frustrating.

The Netball World Cup will take place in Liverpool, England in July this year. Maybe I am simply the eternal optimist, but I genuinely believe that the Sunshine Girls have what it takes to finally lift a global title.

Last year at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, we lost a heartbreaking semi-final 56-55 to England, who went on to win the title. Talent for talent, we were as good as any team there. In the third-place play-off, we beat New Zealand 60-55. We finished third, but we could easily have won the title. That semi-final win over New Zealand was no fluke. Earlier in the year, we had beaten New Zealand twice in their own backyard to win a tri-nation series that also included Malawi. If you go back three years, we had also beaten England in England 2-1 in 2016, a series which showed that we are to be taken seriously.

The squad is bristling with quality. That is not new, but the Sunshine Girls can now unveil several players with international club experience. Romelda Aiken and Jhanelle Fowler are arguably the best attacking duo in world netball. They are feared by every team. To back up these two in the shooting arc is the impressive Shimona Nelson. At only 20 years old, she is already one of the rising stars of the game. She is currently shooting at approximately 89 per cent in professional netball down under.

To complement that scary front three is Shanice Beckford, who has had a stint playing professionally in England. She has been rated among the top five centres in world netball by many close watchers. Nicole Dixon is also highly thought of as centre. She, too, has played professionally in England.

In our mid-court, we have solid, efficient players. Khadijah Williams and Adean Thomas both came through the ranks, having represented Jamaica at both the Under-16 and Under-21 levels before matriculating to the senior team. Jodi-Ann Ward has been seen as the best player in our local league for the last couple of seasons. Representing St Catherine Racers, she has impressed all with her competitiveness and high netball IQ.

DEFENCE

At the heart of the defensive system is the impressive Vangelee Williams. She is a former captain of both the under-16 and under-21 teams. She lends experience and leadership to the squad. Another high quality defender in the squad is Shamera Sterling. She currently plies her trade with the Adelaide Thunders in Australia, where she is ranked as one of their best defenders. Stacian Facey does not yet have overseas professional experience, but she brings a no-nonsense mannerism to the team that is highly admired by those close to the team. Kadie-Ann Dehaney is another who is highly thought of in Suncorp Super Netball in Australia. Playing for the Melbourne Vixens, she was voted the top rookie last season.

COACHING

Man for man – or should I say woman for woman – the Sunshine Girls can hold their own against any other team, especially in the attacking and defensive areas. If the team has any weaknesses, it’s in mid-court, where a lack of height and experience may be a small concern. Marvette Anderson and Winston Nevers may just be the right coaching combination to get the best out of this bunch. Anderson is clinical and pays great attention to detail, while nobody can motivate netballers to give their all like ‘Scrappy’ Nevers.

Commonwealth champions England may just start favourites, playing at home, but five of their squad are over 34 years old, and they may be worn down towards the latter stages of the tourmament. New Zealand are clearly in rebuilding mode, and Australia are not the marauding force they were a few years ago. The moment is therefore right for the Sunshine Girls to go all the way. They have never had a better chance to take top spot. Who knows? Jamaica could add world netball champions to its litany of sporting accomplishments come July 21. It’s about time.