One of the last visits Caitlin Thwaites made before flying to the UK for her second Netball World Cup was to a nursing home in Melbourne’s east to see her 100-year-old Great Auntie Jess.
“Whenever I’m in the paper, she doesn’t shut up about me!’’ laughs Thwaites of her oldest fan. “So the whole nursing home is behind me, apparently.’’
So, too, the many in her home town of Bendigo who can be relied on to follow Thwaites’ progress on TV or through the enthusiastic local newspaper that chronicles her every netball move.
Then there’s the Vixens’ den, to where the former Melbourne Kestrel returned this season for the first time since 2010, having been MVP in the two wins before the month-long World Cup break.
Plus her own family, with Thwaites’ parents and her partner Adam’s all travelling to Liverpool for the quadrennial event that starts on July 12th.
“I feel like a lot of the time when you’re going through your every day (life) there’s a lot of people that are always following and might not always be in the front of your mind, but when big events like this come around it’s really nice for them to reach out a little bit and wish you all the best,’’ says Thwaites.
“It kind of reminds you where you’ve come from, as well, and keeps you grounded in terms of remembering all the different walks of life and the places that you’ve been and the people that are always still supporting you.’’
Indeed, the oldest of the three Vixens - with vice-captain Lizzy Watson and defender Jo Weston - who will be part of the top-ranked Diamonds’ World Cup defence at the Netball World Cup is the only one to have been there before, Thwaites having been part of the Diamonds’ team that in 2015 won the title for the 11th time.
The foundation Vixen was a Swift then, having also played for the Wellington-based Central Pulse for three seasons. Next stop was the Magpies, and home now is the Vixens, where the 32-year-old has forged a productive circle partnership with her 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning teammate Tegan Philip.
“I knew it was going to take a bit of time to find the groove in that attack end, understanding the roles and finding a balance between being in the circle and out of the circle and all of those things,’’ Thwaites says.
“The more time that we have together the more I’m figuring out what role I’m playing within the team, but we’re also finding out ways to play to each other’s strengths, which is really good.
“The girls in the last couple of weeks have done a really great job of allowing me to be in the circle and getting some high volume in shots and things like that. So, I think it’s me figuring them out, but them figuring me out, as well.’’
The well-travelled Thwaites believes it is an endorsement of the strong Victorian system that there are more Vixens in the Diamonds’ team than from any other club, as well as three of the four training partners - unlucky trio Philip, Kate Moloney and Emily Mannix.
“The Victorian presence within the Aussie team has always been a really strong thing, and I think it is a reflection of our coaching at the grassroots (level) and all the way through,’’ she says, with Magpie Kelsey Browne another product of the Netball Victoria pathways.
“Victorian athletes have always been really highly skilled and drilled athletes in the way that you can get out there and think for yourselves, and that’s a great reflection of all the work that’s being done everywhere.’’
Thwaites quips that each time she moves clubs feels like the last time, “and then there’s another change and another change!’’. Still, each has been a learning experience, and with adversity has come a strength that has helped to carry the 47-Test stalwart to a second Netball World Cup.
And as the Diamonds jet to Manchester to complete their preparations before the short trip to Liverpool. Great Auntie Jess will be reading all about it, and the extended Vixens’ family watching keenly and affectionately, too.
Written by Linda Pearce