Netball upstarts have stars in their eyes
Being 1.92m tall might be a bit tricky for the average South African girl, but for 17year-old Khadijan Dembele from Soweto, her height advantage might just help to make her dream of playing netball for South Africa come true.
Coming from a family that really isn’t into sport, Dembele says she eats, sleeps and dreams playing her beloved sport at the highest level.
Dembele was one of 80 girls who were invited to take part in a week-long training camp in Pretoria organised by Netball SA last week to identify the next generation of international players.
Of the 80 players aged between 16 and 20 who were invited, 66 turned up – complete with stars in their eyes and hopes of catching the eye of the selectors.
With the emergence of sponsored competitions such as the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League, the increasing broadcasts of live netball and coverage in the mainstream media, more young women are seeking to take their participation in netball to the next level.
With more than 2 million active participants, netball is the largest women’s sport in the country.
“There’s a lot of competition here with the girls,” said Dembele on the sidelines of the camp, “but I’m going to make every moment count. Because I’m passionate about the sport, I believe I will be the first professional sportswoman in my family,” she added.
The camp was overseen by SA Under-21 and Netball Premier League coach Dorette Badenhorst, assisted by the Spar Proteas’ Maryka Holtzhausen, Phumza Maweni, Lenize Potgieter and Erin Burger – as well as former Eastern Cape Aloes goal shooter Dumisani Chauke.
Some of the girls had never been exposed to such intensity and soon realised this was a serious business. After four intense 12-hour days in the Pretoria heat, North West Flames head coach Badenhorst and her assistants were more than impressed with the level of talent and commitment the girls displayed.
“It’s great working with these girls because they’re taking it with both hands and improving every day,” said Badenhorst. “I’m a basics coach and I believe in the basics. You can’t expect players to perform and expect certain things if you don’t coach them – that, and certain skills.
“I was particularly impressed with the flexibility of players to take on various positions.”
While a final squad would not be selected at the camp, up for grabs was the chance to create a lasting impression for a spot in the team for the 2017 Youth Championships in Botswana.
Not to mention the potential of a spot in one of the Brutal Fruit Netball Premier League franchises, and perhaps even consideration for the Proteas.
Dreams aside, it was important for the girls to learn exactly how much work would have to go into making it to international level.
Reaching the pinnacle, Chauke advised, would take grit and determination.
“It takes a lot to get to the top; it takes even more to stay there: hard work, commitment and dedication. I hope that, over this week, the girls will learn the importance of self-discipline and proper time management.”
Melodine Jacobs, a 19-year-old from Port Elizabeth, started her journey at provincial level.
Her enthusiasm resonated on the courts and she later revealed that, whether she made the camp’s Netball SA team or not, she planned on pursuing her ultimate dream of a spot in the Proteas by whatever course necessary.
“I would really like to make it into the national squad, but I know I have to work hard – and even if they don’t select me, I won’t give up on the sport because I want to apply everything I was taught here,” said Jacobs.
Some, such as 20-year-old Lourine van Heerden from Johannesburg, literally fought through pain to attend the camp.
“I had an ankle reconstruction in February, and it’s been really tough on me to get back in form.
“But what I will treasure from the camp is the friendships I’ve built here; I will forever cherish them and continue contributing to netball.”
Players pose during the netball training camp