Youth is on Team Bath's side says captain Catling ahead of NSL opener
Team Bath captain Lily-May Catling is confident that her side’s new youthful squad could forge something special under new boss Asha Francis, writes Sportsbeat's James Reid.
The Blue and Gold finished third last season under departing head coach Anna Stembridge but have seen plenty of change with England stars Layla Guscoth and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis departing.
In their place has come a host of young stars including 18-year-olds Jayda Pechova and Sophie Kelly, plus Kiwi midcourter Ali Wilshier, and Catling is confident they can hit the ground running thanks to the strong culture they have already created off court.
“We always want to be challenging,” said Catling.
“Team Bath has such an incredible reputation; a phenomenal history and this team is something quite special. It is young and vibrant, something we haven’t had for a while.
“We have been really insular this pre-season, really working on ourselves and what we want to do every time we step out on court, focusing on that performance and having each other’s backs.
“That culture is really driving us to be challenging this season.”
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While Team Bath made the play-offs last season, and reached the Grand Final in 2021, expectations this year are less certain given the new-look squad.
But Catling is relishing the prospect of being a potential surprise package and believes fans will stand up and take notice once they see them on court.
“It’s quite nice to be under the radar,” she added.
“We have a really fresh team with lots of players that people haven’t seen before, so I’m excited for the buzz that’s going to happen when those players step out on court; there are some really quite phenomenal athletes there.
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“We have a really exciting brand of netball this year. Our performance is really driven from our culture and it’s about having each other’s back and having fun whilst we are on court.
“You can see when we play how much we like each other and how much fun we are having.
“It's such a great team. I’m really looking forward to our away trips, the coach journeys; we have so much fun on those coach journeys, and we just hopefully take that onto the court.”
Behind this emphasis is new head coach Francis, who is at the helm in the Super League for the first time in her career, having served as assistant head coach last season.
A three-time Super League champion as a player, Francis admitted there are some nerves ahead of her coaching debut against last season’s runners-up Loughborough Lightning on Saturday.
“It has been exciting to take the helm, this is the beginning of what should be a long journey,” said Francis.
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“I am looking forward to seeing where we are. It’s really hard in pre-season to know how far you have come. I am looking forward to enjoying the journey, there will be ups and downs.
“By the end of the season, it will be a great opportunity to take stock and review everything we have done.
“One thing we haven’t done is set our sights on being top four, we have stripped away those outcome goals and broken down what it is we want to do; we want to be better at the end than we were at the start.
“The biggest thing for me is that this team shows its grit, its fight, its connectivity; the way we are going to look after each other, the way we are going to back each other up. We are a team of 12 rather than being a team of seven or eight.
“What we are really trying to look for is players being able to express themselves, being creative, having fun.
“It’s a lot of time that these ladies give up, and they work hard in other jobs, and we need to remember to enjoy the moment.”
The 2023 Netball Super League season gets underway on Saturday 11 February, live on Sky Sports. Tickets to games across the season can be found at: //netballsl.com/tickets