Having played more international minutes than any other Diamond in 2019, and every Suncorp Super Netball second in all 16 games for the Melbourne Vixens, Liz Watson’s time is now finally her own.
Six weeks. No netball. Imagine that? Instead, at the end of a year of plenty, stretching ahead are days free to do nothing much more than laze around at home, catch up with non-netball friends and recover in both body and mind.
When asked to sum up a 10-month stretch that started with the northern Quad Series, continued onto SSN duty either side of a silver medal at a debut Netball World Cup, and finished recently with Australia’s retention of the Constellation Cup, the word that springs first to Watson’s mind is the obvious one.
“Probably ‘busy’, I think!’’ is how she describes the season that was.
“But it’s been amazing. It’s probably one of the best netball years that I’ve had in terms of what I’ve been able to achieve. Being at a World Cup, and with the Vixens, and even the Quad Series in Jan(uary) - I kind of forget about that one. So it’s been a busy year, but I’ve absolutely loved it.
“Everyone says ‘did you enjoy the World Cup?’ And obviously besides the last three minutes of that last game it was one of the best experiences that I’ve ever been a part of. I think just the way I feel like I’ve stepped up in my playing ability and leadership space it’s really just made it a more enjoyable and exciting time.’’
The Australian and Vixens’ vice-captain is ready for a break, though - including, perhaps, a day or two at the Spring Racing Carnival, some hiking, trips to the beach. “I’m glad that I won’t be on a netball court for a while; I think there’s only so much that a body can do in a year, and I’ve definitely had enough at this point in time.’’
There will be exercise, for that is a given for an athlete renowned for her strength and stamina, who typically runs five or six stop-start kilometres in each game. Variety will come through boxing or swimming, perhaps, ahead of the pre-Christmas stretch of the Vixens’ pre-season, and then the resumption on January 5.
To list how much Watson played in 2019, including finishing with the second-most minutes - behind the remarkably indefatigable Laura Langman - in the seven trans-Tasman Tests is to understand how important the 25-year-old has become to each of her teams.
Yet her on-court role tends to switch as she moves between club and country, with wing attack her usual spot for the Vixens and centre more common with the Diamonds. Watson insists she has no preference, is comfortable with both, and happy to adapt as circumstances and combinations require.
The next focus will be solely on Super Netball, however, for Netball Australia's decision to opt out of the annual January competition in England means they have no internationals scheduled for the next 11 months.
Back home over a long and settled summer in Melbourne, meanwhile, only Jamaican Kadie-Ann Dehaney will miss a chunk of the pre-season, and with no need for Diamonds’ squad members to be court-ready in January, Watson says the Vixens' emphasis can be on building the fitness base for the season ahead.
Both the ‘’ins” on the team list are well-known to the close-knit group, with defender Kate Eddy a former training partner and the already-blooded Tayla Honey contracted among the core 10 last year before an Achilles tear. The quartet of Watson, Kate Moloney, Jo Weston and Emily Mannix have played together since their junior days, and are thrilled to be doing so in 2020.
“To be able to say we’re all at the Vixens again is exciting,'' says Watson. "And with the addition of Kate Eddy, who’s also a Victorian we all know quite well, it just adds that extra strength of familiarity with who are we are and the Victorian pathway that we’ve all followed.
“As Victorians, right from junior days you’re expected to win and be amongst the best, so we’ve definitely got that winning culture ingrained in us.’’
Which made preliminary final day against the NSW Swifts all the more disappointing, and Watson's motivation in a season in which she is scheduled to play her 100th game is entwined with the desire to succeed for long-serving coach Simone McKinnis.
“We feel like we’re so close but we just haven’t been able to get there, and that’s something we’re going to need to look at, because we’ve definitely got the team that we believe can do it; that’s why Simone picked us and backed us to do it again,'' says the midcourt star.
“But in saying that, to be able to get to finals and win a final, too, is huge for us; we haven’t done that for a while. So still really proud of what we were able to achieve.
"We’re hard on ourselves because we want to become premiers and that’s what we say from the start every year. We kind of want to do it for Simone. I feel like we owe it to her; she’s put such belief and faith in us the last couple of seasons, and we haven’t been able to get that final result.
"So I’m really excited for when we do start, and hopefully we go all the way this time.’’
Written by Linda Pearce