As Karyn Bailey prepares for her fourth season in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL), and her second with Surrey Storm, she has said the league made her rekindle her love with netball again, writes Sophie Reynolds.
After a successful stint playing professionally in her home country, Australia, in 2017 Bailey made the move to England to play in the VNSL for Saracens Mavericks, before joining Storm in 2019.
Speaking on her move to England, the goal shooter said: “I was here for about six months and just absolutely loved it, and I think I remembered how much I liked playing netball.
“Sometimes when you reach a pinnacle of a sport, it becomes less about the fun aspect, and it becomes more about the full performance that you are putting out, especially when you are playing in the best league in the world.
“Coming over here was nice to just try and remember what netball was about and appreciate and talk to the girls that appreciate the fact that they are getting paid even this minimal amount, compared to fighting for triple figure contracts.”
Despite seeing the VNSL as an opportunity to enjoy her netball again, Bailey is still taking the league very seriously.
“I remember when I first moved from Mavericks to Storm, I was looking for more opportunity to stay on court.
“Unfortunately, the 2020 season didn’t really go ahead, but for me being part of Storm in that pre-season and even in that shorter season gave me a taste of what Storm was about.
“I think that all of the values and culture at Storm are certainly what you want to be part of, and it is kind of like a big family, but a big competitive family.”
As the 2021 campaign begins, the competition for a place in the starting line-up is rife as ever at Storm, but even more so if you want to claim a spot in the attacking circle.
“We do have a lot of shooters, but I think every single shooter throughout this pre-season has really stood up and shown exactly what they are capable of.
“I’d hate to be one of the coaches at the moment because selecting those shooters for each week, at each game, is certainly going to be a difficult one throughout the season.”
One shooter who has made her breakthrough into the Storm first team is Sophie Kelly, who has been part of the franchise’s pathway since the age of 13.
Bailey had nothing but praise for her young teammate.
“She is absolutely incredible.
“For her age her netball knowledge, her vision and her execution of balls are just far superior, and sometimes I just stand there absolutely in awe watching her on court.”
“I think she is going to go a really long way in her netball, and I can’t wait to watch her in the future years, when I’m retired, and she is scoring all those goals remaining on the netball court!”
Whilst being in awe of the young guns coming through the ranks, the Australian shooter believes all competition for that place on the court is healthy.
“You don’t ever want to be in a team where you are like ‘this is the starting line-up’, you know you have your seven players and then the bench, you want to be in a team where it is constantly competitive.
“Even for the older girls, like myself, you want to be constantly pushed and challenged to earn that spot on the court, and Mikki (Austin) has always been very open about that.
“Everyone has full rights to be selected in that team each week, and she has no qualms whatsoever elevating players or dropping players if they are not performing.”
Storm’s Director of Netball, Mikki Austin, has an attitude and work ethic that Bailey admires.
“She tells me what she wants, I tell her what I want, sometimes that goes down well, sometimes it doesn’t!
“I would say we have got a great relationship, and it’s great on a player level when she is on court, and it is great on a coaching level when she is not.
“I fully respect her as my coach and I respect the fact she is able to combine being a player and being a coach at such a young age, her experience in netball is again just amazing.
“I certainly couldn’t do both.”
One role that Bailey will happily fulfil alongside her playing commitments this season though is that of co-captain, a role she will take on alongside Emily Gulvin.
“I always think it is an honour to be selected to be in a leadership role for your peers, it is certainly something that I don’t take lightly.
“Naturally, I will lead on court in my attacking end, but it is kind of stepping beyond that now and thinking about what I can do for every single player in that team, making sure they are happy with where they are at in the club, with the opportunities they are getting, and knowing if they need any support, if they need someone to talk to, or if they need to raise any issues, so it is a big step up.
“It is something I am enjoying, it is not something I have previously done in my netball career, so to get this opportunity later on in my career is a really big honour.”
Taking her role as co-captain very seriously, Bailey was clear on what the team’s goals were for the season ahead.
“We sat down and kind of went through all our goals and objectives and I think the thing that always remains for us is that we want to be in the top four, I think that is kind of the pinnacle for any SuperLeague team.
“Obviously we would love the premiership but let’s take baby steps on that one!”
Through all the excitement for the leagues return Bailey didn’t shy away from the sadness, and the recent announcement that all games will be played at a centralised venue behind closed doors.
“Even though we won’t get the opportunity to probably have fans attend our games, we don’t know if it is for the full season, or half a season, that is again unknown at this point, but I think even though the fans won’t be there we will still hear from them on social media.
“We will still know that they are watching and supporting us and that is something they have always been really good at.”
Bailey then finished her interview with a message for the Storm fans saying: “On behalf of all us Storm girls we thank you for your support in 2020, throughout pre-season and we thank you for your support in 2021.
“You are certainly heard, we certainly read everything you write, and we appreciate everything that you do for us.
“So, keep supporting us, and we will keep trying to put out those performances for you.”
Written by Sophie Reynolds