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Round 8: Vixens vs GIANTS

Match Day Guide

🦊 Round 8: Vixens vs GIANTS Match Day Guide

Zara Walters has come to play

Zara web tile
1 month ago

Written by Amelia Barnes

Those who watched Zara Walters at the 2023 Australian Netball Championships (ANC) were not surprised when the Melbourne Vixens’ newest midcourt player was announced.

The 20-year-old from Colac topped nearly every attacking statistic (goal assists, feeds into the circle, feeds with an attempt, and second phase receives) across the competition, earning her plenty of attention from Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) coaches and selectors.

While pleased with her ANC performance, Walters never thought an SSN call up would come so soon.

“I had no idea it would be on the cards… I never once thought it would be a possibility,” said Walters.

“I was hoping for a training partner position, so to hear the news they were offering a signed position was a pretty surreal feeling.”

At the recent Team Girls Cup pre-season SSN tournament, Walters repeated her dominant ANC performance, only this time against the best netball players in the world.

Across the three-day event, Walters recorded 245.5 Nissan Net Points (NNP) – the most of any player in the league. She also ranked second for feeds, and third for goal assists, across the entire tournament.

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Walters was struggling to make Netball Victoria Talent Academy and State teams.

“I think at that age, people develop earlier or later than others physically and especially mentally, so for me it took a bit more time than others,” Walters said.

Her opportunity finally came when selected in the Victorian 17/U State team in 2020, followed by the 19/U State team in 2021 and 2022.

Walters soon made the national pathway, including the Australian 17/U squad in 2020, the 19/U squad in 2021 and 2022, and 21/U squad in 2023.

“I do think once I entered the pathway I continued to improve, being surrounded constantly by amazing coaches and athletes which really pushes you individually,” she said.

Walters comes into the Vixens’ contracted squad without having previously been a training partner, but she has established relationships with several squad members and staff.

Vixens assistant coach Di Honey was previously Walters’ coach at Geelong Grammar School (which Walters attended from year 10 onwards on a netball scholarship), and she has played with the other Vixens training partners for Victorian Fury, and against them in the Victorian Netball League (VNL).

“I was quite nervous at the start knowing I had skipped the training partner phase and wondering whether I was ready to go straight into being a contracted athlete, but the girls and all the staff are awesome in pushing each other and supporting one another to help drive that intensity,” said Walters.

While living in the country growing up may have limited Walters’ early exposure to selectors and opportunities, she credits playing for her local club in the Geelong Football Netball League (GFNL) with fast-tracking her athleticism.

By the age of 15, Walters was achieving best on court honours in A-Grade matches, and she has two GFNL premierships to her name.

“Playing for Colac Tigers gave me the opportunity to play at senior level against bigger bodies at a young age which definitely helps you develop,” she said.

Representing the Geelong Cougars in the VNL since 2019 also helped Walters progress and finetune her skills across all three midcourt positions.

“The VNL is such a strong competition so constantly coming up against tough opposition each week and playing with some talented girls definitely improves you as a player.”

Walters’ preferred position is wing attack as it allows her to connect with the shooters, although versatility is one of her strengths. It was only a few years ago the 176cm athlete was regularly found in goal defence.

“I would say my vision into the ring and the ability to create space would be my strengths, but it has been awesome to have so much knowledge and experience within the group to really help improve each session.”

Now a contracted Vixen, Walters is taking some time away from studying osteopathy at university to focus on her debut SSN season.

While some may say she’s effectively replacing Liz Watson on the team – arguably the best wing attack in the world, and a backbone of the Vixens for almost 10 seasons – the young midcourter is keeping a level head and healthy perspective ahead of Round 1.

“I’ve tried not to think of it in that way. I think what has really helped is just sticking to my strengths and taking the opportunity with two hands,” Walters said.

“I’m really excited for the SSN season. I think we have a really strong list with so many combinations, so it will be awesome to come up against tough competition and hopefully have a successful 2024.”

The Vixens begin their 2024 campaign against the Melbourne Mavericks at John Cain Arena on Sunday 14 April.

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