Sophie Drakeford-Lewis almost swapped the netball court for the tennis court

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Commonwealth Games - Glasgow 2014 XX Commonwealth Games - Glasgow, Scotland - 3/8/14 Netball - General view in the Bronze medal Womens Netball Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Paul Harding Livepic EDITORIAL USE ONLY. (AI Project / reuters)
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Ranked higher than Emma Raducanu at the same age, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis' sporting life could have been very different.

The 23-year-old from Reading has been named in the England netball squad for the 2022 Commonwealth Games but almost had a drastically different career path chasing a smaller ball.

She was ranked British number one at under-18 and under-16, making a career in tennis a distinct possibility.

But sharp shooter Drakeford-Lewis doesn't regret her decision to knuckle down on netball.

She said: "I played a lot of tennis as a junior up until the age of, kind of 17 when netball started to be my priority.

"Emma [Raducanu] was a few too many years below me so I never came into contact with her at that age.

"We were all actually in New Zealand watching it in our team room, watching her win the US Open.

“I really loved my tennis career but I'm really pleased and happy with the choice that I made and having all these girls around me makes it so great.

"It became quite hard to combine them both as well as studying for my A-Levels and it kind of just happened.

"Naturally I just had to make a decision, I had had a back injury that summer and it kind of just was going to be better for me to choose and I ended up going down the netball route. So it was rough but I'm happy with my decision.

"A lot of the girls that I used to play with both nationally and also internationally have just been given wildcards into Wimbledon next week so I'm really looking forward to supporting them."

With the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games set to inspire people and communities across the country this summer, Drakeford-Lewis hopes sharing her story will give others motivation to get involved in sport and turn their dreams into reality.

Drakeford-Lewis competed in the same age group as Wimbledon wildcards Jodie Burrage and Katie Swan before focusing on her blossoming netball career.

In 2017, she was part of the team who won bronze at the Netball Youth World Cup in Gaborone, Botswana.

Drakeford-Lewis has been a vital member of the Team Bath squad this season, helping her team all the way to a third place playoff win at this year's Vitality Netball Superleague.

And to be selected for her maiden Commonwealth Games in Birmingham is the icing on the cake of an impressive season.

This summer, Team England, supported by funding raised by National Lottery players, will comprise of over 400 athletes in total, and having secured her place on the squad, Drakeford-Lewis is looking to capitalise on the once in a lifetime opportunity for medal success in her home country.

She said: "It's extremely exciting to be selected for my first Commonwealth Games but also the fact that it's a home Games makes it so special.

"I think for us to have it in Birmingham where our friends and family can come and support and the whole nation can get behind us, it's going to be really amazing.

"I've been around this group for the past three years so it's been great to build those connections with the older girls and I'm obviously the youngest but I'm really good friends with lots of the girls in the squad so, whilst I am it doesn't really make any difference to how I feel in the squad."

At the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, England won their first netball gold in a tantalising last-gasp 52-51 win over host nation Australia.

Then first-year university student Drakeford-Lewis watched on, dreaming it could be her one day.

She said: "I remember getting up in student halls to watch it on my laptop and it was such an inspiring moment for someone like me who just had huge aspirations to make a major championship.

"And for them to win gold too is so awesome to watch and so inspiring."

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