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Netball Takes on Basketball in Sporting Success Stories at the University of Worcester

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In recent years the University of Worcester has become synonymous with basketball – a game that has dominated much of the University’s sporting prowess.

But there’s another sport that is fast becoming another area of excellence– netball. In the past two years the University’s netball offering has exploded, with the first and second teams both securing promotion last season, and the University is now attracting some of the country’s top athletes to play and study. In December, the University of Worcester Arena will also host an international fixture between England and Malawi and for the past two years has been the venue for the national Netball Superleague finals.

The development has been led by Michelle Morgan, who, 10 years after joining the University of Worcester as a student, was appointed as the University’s Director of Netball and Teaching Fellow in Employability.

Sheli has taken the sport of netball from a student hobby to an integral part of the University’s sports offering. Her talent is such that this weekend she has been invited to be the Joint Head Coach of an International Junior Netball Tournament being held in partnership by Disney World and Visions in Education in Florida, an event endorsed by Netball America. In addition, third year Physical Education student, Dani Gunn, will be jetting off to La Manga to coach at the Spanish Netball Festival this weekend, also as part of the Vision in Education programme.

Sheli, who joined the University in 2004 as an undergraduate student in Sports Studies and PE and has worked in a number of roles at the University since, was originally approached to coach the University’s netball team by a student. “The student knew I had my level 2 coaching qualification and asked if I would be interested in coaching the team,” she said. “That year the first team finished second in the league and we over-hauled the whole programme.”

Last year the University women’s first and second netball teams were undefeated, with the first team securing promotion to division 1A and the second team promoted to division 4A. And Sheli delights in the fact that this year, for the second consecutive year the squad also beat the University of Gloucestershire, who can boast an England legend on their coaching team, at Varsity.

The use of Sports Psychology and Sports Therapy students for first aid and treatment of injuries has also contributed to the success of the teams; while the facilities at the recently opened University of Worcester Arena have also been hugely beneficial, with strength and conditioning sessions taking place twice a week, and this has enabled the girls to get themselves in the best condition possible for each fixture that they play.

“With an increase in the number of coaches and umpires being trained at the University through the Coach Education programme, netball at the University of Worcester is certainly going strong,” Sheli said.

This year pre-season training started early and the team were training five-days-a-week, including specialist strength and conditioning programmes, body fat testing and functional movement screening.

“It was quite remarkable as we had eight girls who were Freshers so they hadn’t even started studying at the University when we began training and they were turning up every day to train from 8am,” Sheli said.

Sheli said she used social media to recruit new students joining the University who were interested in netball, and 142 girls tried out for the squad.

“We have some really excellent players joining us this year,” she said. “I am certain that some have come to study here largely because of the quality of our netball.

“The calibre of player being attracted to the University of Worcester is growing year on year and it is exciting to think where we can go on such strong foundations.”

The new squad includes twins Becky and Laura Tildesley and under 19 regional player of the season, Laura Vann.

Becky and Laura both play at regional level for West Midlands Warriors, as well as for Dudley Leisure Netball Club. Becky also played for England Under 17s.

“We have been involved in netball since we were really young as our mom plays,” said the 18-year-olds. “We wanted to go to a university where we could continue with our netball and get our degree and Worcester was the best option for us.”

Sheli is aiming to provide a programme ready to support a Netball Superleague franchise by September 2016. It was during the recent Netball Superleague final at the University of Worcester Arena that Sheli was approached to become Joint Head Coach at the Florida netball tournament. While there she will head a team of nine international coaches and 150 players from all over the world.

“I am absolutely astounded to be asked to participate, let alone be Joint Head Coach,” Sheli said. “It is a fantastic opportunity for me, but also to promote netball at the University of Worcester and to learn from international colleagues.”

Following the Flordia tournament, Sheli jets straight off to Miami, where she be part of a major event hosted by Netball America.

The England v Malawi game will be the second time that the University Arena has hosted the national team – a sell-out crowd watched them beat South Africa to claim a 3-0 series win in September 2013 – and the venue has also become home to the sport’s domestic Superleague final, hosting the showpiece event in 2014 and 2013.

England Head Coach, Anna Mayes, said: “We are delighted to be heading back to Worcester for our December fixture against Malawi. The passion and support we receive from our fans in that area is phenomenal and it really inspires the team to deliver on the court.

“The Malawi ‘Queens’ will bring an entertaining style to the series and we expect a tough challenge from our visitors, but it is one we are determined to overcome in Worcester.

“Our previous visits to the University Arena have been laden with success and we look forward to our attempt to continue this fabulous run of form. The supporters act as our eighth player and we can’t wait to see a sell-out crowd unite in red with us this Christmas.”

England face Malawi at the University Arena on December 20, at 3.15pm. For further details and ticket information, visit www.englandnetball.co.uk