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Loughborough Lightning star Natalie Panagarry is hoping to use the momentum from an outstanding Vitality Netball Superleague season into next year’s Commonwealth Games with England, writes Jack Lacey.
This week marks one year until the 2022 games get under way in Birmingham, with Head Coach Jess Thirlby’s Vitality Roses defending the gold medal they won down under back in 2018.
Panagarry, who excelled from centre/ wing-defence last season, captained Lightning to their first Superleague title in 2021 after an extraordinary campaign.
“It was an incredible season, but such a rollercoaster. I think with Covid still around we were not even sure if we were going to get through the year,” said Panagarry, who has been capped 17 times by England.
“I was just so grateful that I’ve been able to train and play. Stepping out on the court first time, I knew we had to appreciate every moment.
“At Loughborough we had our ups and downs, but a good two weeks before finals and found some form.
“I was just so happy we managed to get over the finishing line, after losing two finals before, the buzz still hasn’t worn off.
“The noise on that finals weekend was amazing.
“It is so exciting to look ahead to Birmingham now, I just want to keep this good spell rolling until then.”
Panagarry knows competition for places will be fierce in a Vitality Roses talented squad but is excited by the up-and-coming stars now pushing for places in the team.
It could give England the boost needed to beat the best once again in the world and retain their crown.
“There is a really good mix in the squad now. We have a lot of young guns coming through and I am excited for them to join up with the old heads and see what we can do,” added Panagarry, whose performances on the court have helped to attract 160,000 women to play netball or more netball following the World Cup in 2019 in Liverpool, with 125,000 women having now also returned to the sport through England Netball’s highly successful Back to Netball programme.
“It is really competitive. No-one knows what can happen in a years’ time or who will be in that squad.
“I’ll be there no matter what! Playing or if I do not make it supporting for sure.
“Now I’ve got to 30, obviously at this point you just want the legs to keep going, and I appreciate the opportunity of wearing that red dress even more now.”
The Loughborough skipper also knows what a huge difference a passionate home crowd can make.
She was part of the England team that won the bronze medal at the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool.
Panagarry added: “It was my first major tournament and we genuinely felt like rock-stars for two weeks.
“It was just amazing, even the amount of support at the hotel, it just blew us away.
“That extra buzz gives you a big boost. I am hoping the fans can create that buzz again in Birmingham.
“When people see that they want to become part of the sport, so hopefully Netball can continue to grow from it.”
To keep up to date with all the Vitality Roses news follow @englandnetball on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or visit the England Netball website.