Ine-Mari Venter thought she knew what was coming.
After all, her South African Proteas coach, Norma Plummer, is a legend of Victorian and Australian netball, whose celebrated Melbourne Phoenix squad in the inaugural national league season included current Vixens boss Simone McKinnis.
After a back injury restricted Venter to swimming and cycling for the month before she arrived for pre-season training in Melbourne, the young shooter realised that what she had expected from afar was not exactly what she would experience up close.
“I was like ‘oh, my word!’. Every session is just at such a high intensity,’’ laughs Venter. “I remember after my first session, my first week, my whole body was aching. I was like ‘this is just another level of netball’.
“That was my first running session, and then John (Tascone) throws in a fitness session just before we start the actual session, and I was thinking to myself ‘what have I got myself in to? Who does fitness before you go onto court?’’’
Elite training is now Venter’s new normal, and what she describes as a welcoming, inclusive and supportive Vixens environment her current home. She impressed McKinnis at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, and has been endorsed by Plummer, who advised her not to sign elsewhere prematurely.
Personally, too, the timing was ideal, for the 24-year-old who had only one subject left to complete her animal science degree in Pretoria, and her plan to then study vet nursing had not quite come to fruition. UK Superleague suitors who had been circling for several years were bested by an offer from one of the most respected clubs in the strongest league of all.
“Norma called me aside and said ‘ok, I’ve got some news. I just want you to know that the Melbourne Vixens are interested, so don’t just close all your options just for Bath. There are a few offers that might come, and Vixens are one of them’,'' says Ventor.
“I was listening, but I thought ‘what are the chances that I get to make my international league debut in Australia?’ Because all of our (South African) girls started in the English League and then eventually made their way to the big leagues.
"But before I knew it I was meeting Simone in New Zealand at ‘Super Club’ and a week later I got the contract, and I was like ‘oh, ok, this happened really quick, and it’s actually happening!’ It was really unexpected.''
Accustomed to sitting on the bench for South Africa until her Comm Games breakthrough, Venter waited until just over two minutes before half-time in round five to make her Suncorp Super Netball debut last Sunday against the NSW Swifts.
“I remember I was like ‘I’m actually running on court!’. I couldn’t hide my smile. I was just so happy to be on court and make my debut,’’ says Venter. “It’s not the ideal game when you’re 10 down, but you take every chance you get and you try to improve that.
“I think my career has prepared me for starting from the bench. I didn’t expect to go on, but when I saw things really struggling at the game I was like ‘ok, you’re usually prepared to go on, but now you should really be prepared to go on’.’’
A post-buzzer penalty blunder in which she passed off to Caitlin Thwaites was, mercifully, not mentioned by McKinnis at half-time, and a further eight minutes in combination with Tegan Philip in the last quarter gave Venter a slightly bigger taste.
With the recent addition of Lenize Potgeiter (Firebirds) and Shadine van der Merwe (Thunderbirds) bringing to five the number of Proteas in SSN, Venter will confront compatriots Karla Pretorius and Phumze Maweni in Saturday’s game against the Lightning on the Sunshine Coast.
She will also stay on for an extra night, to stay with her friend Pretorius, and talk in Afrikaans. For so many, the World Cup beckons, and Venter will be one of five Vixens, with Lizzy Watson, Caitlin Thwaites, Jo Weston and Kadie-Ann Dehaney also heading to Liverpool in July.
“Training with the Vixens and training against Australia’s best, I’m a lot more confident and I feel like I’ve matured a little bit,'’ says Venter. “And I’ve been training in GA with the Vixens as well, so, yeah, I think I’m ready for this World Cup.’'
Written by Linda Pearce