There was competition for this week’s Team of the Week slot as Reggie Bell played his first ever sporting fixture. He donned the tags for a game of touch rugby as Prestfelde Under-9s took on the might of Shrewsbury High Prep. The massive crowd were enthralled by a highly athletic and disciplined game played at a furious pace. I spoke to a number of spectators who had managed to find a ‘window of opportunity’ to sneak away from the office and watch their favourite player. All of them wished to remain anonymous and I was only watching as I went out to post a letter which suddenly leapt out of my grasp, (it was a very windy day), and was blown all the way to Prestfelde where I finally managed to retrieve it. I have decided not to mention that game however, as many of you will have watched it on Sky. Instead I will be concentrating my attention on the Shrewsbury School netball squads.
I needed no such gust of wind to propel me to the netball courts earlier in the week, where I was a significant percentage of the crowd that turned out to catch the end of senior netball practice, followed by Under-14 and Under-15 matches against Thomas Telford. (Thomas Telford School, not Thomas Telford, as he no longer graces the netball court of life and from what I can gather was not renowned for his goal shooting or defending anyway.)
I was introduced to the recently recruited Karen Hall, our new coach. I didn’t stay for her team talk as that was a bit ‘Longmynd-ed’ (Coach joke alert)! Karen is well known in Shropshire Netball circles. Indeed her name keeps popping up again and again, possibly because she runs her own netball team called ‘Recycles’. I asked her for her first impressions of Shrewsbury School netball. She told me that the top squad can run four teams and have great strength in depth. She felt that few schools could run so many teams at such a high level and she was delighted by the enthusiastic and positive attitude to the game to be found among the participants. “I am delighted by the enthusiastic and positive attitude to the game found among the girls at Shrewsbury,” Karen said. Lower down the School she feels there is real talent, as evidenced by the Under-14s reaching the Midlands Finals and the Under-15s being undefeated in their age group this season.
I was lucky enough to witness Karen coaching some senior girls who are so enthused by the game that they had stayed behind for extra training. Club Captain Eily Kerr told me: “I am enthused by netball. Extra training is just so much fun, I wish we could do it all day.” Eily is a gifted Philosophy & Theology student and admitted “I can’t ‘Plato’ often”! She went on to say, “I am proud to be involved in such a talented, happy and positive squad of players.”
Another keen exponent of the game, Orla McCormack, was working on her defensive technique. Orla recently won the Senior Wind Prize on her saxophone and she is certainly in tune with Karen. Orla can be likened to a whirlwind, as she engulfs her opponents in a storm force gale of defensive manoeuvres. “There is nothing like a good winding,” she told me.
Mima Price, who is first team captain and an ever-present member of the first team throughout her distinguished time at Shrewsbury, clearly loves her netball. “It is something I love to do when I am not playing the clarinet, working on my A level art or looking forward to a deeply academic and intellectual conversation with my tutor.”
Another devotee of the game, Sophia Price, was keen to tell me how much she enjoyed playing with her big sister. “It is wonderful to be in a team with such an inspirational player as my sister”. “It’s my birthday soon,” Sophia added. “But really there is one person I have to thank for honing my skills and that is my dad, Brian. He just loves netball and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of the game.” Both Sophia and Mima are goal shooters for Shrewsbury. It would be fair to say the Shrewsbury goals come at a fair price!
The Prices are ably supported by midfielders Molly Stokes and Amy Pook, whilst Veronica Parr and Amelia Maunder help goalkeeper Julianne Hinwood keep the Shrewsbury net free of goals. There are others I should mention as the squad rotates regularly, but time dictates that I move to the lower echelons of the netballing ladder.
The Under-15 team were taking on Telford without top shooter Amelie Davies who was gutted not to be playing. “I have no gut any more, I am so gutted” Amelie told me. Poppy Collingwood Cameron is the other main source of goals and she was in fine form, helping finish off the excellent team play with goals that any famous netball shooter (such as Russian star Haveagoyah Poppemin), would be proud of. Despite the setback of losing Georgia Kannreuther to a serious scratch on the hand from a nasty fall (which was extremely well attended to by the medical team who utilised the first aid box to the extent that it is conceivable that every single yard of bandage and sticking plaster in Shropshire will need replacing).
The team won convincingly, 22-8, with fine performances from Eleanor Nibblet, Mary Lees, Marie Nuthjen, Artemis Cooper, Laura Elliott, Katie Ford and Izzy Lewis.
The Under-14s were also missing some key players, with Georgie Nicholas and Eddie Hargraves out injured. Annie Middleton was strong up front and Liv Usher, Ellie Kynaston and Phoebe Morris were resolute in defence. However, they went down by 1 goal: 8-7.
Coaches Emma Kelly, Katie Marriot and Nicola Bradburne were quick to praise all their teams but mentioned that the attitude in the Under-14s is first class. “These girls listen to advice and will therefore improve,” said Mrs Bradburne. Alice Hughes told me, “I am quite prepared to listen to our expert coaches. I have been trained very well in such skills by my Philosophy & Theology teacher.” Daisy David and Catrin Heath are also good listeners. Elisabeth Edwards is too.
It is clear that netball is a popular and vibrant sport at Shrewsbury, although rumours that the local knitting group are going to sponsor the coaching team have been denied by Head of Girls’ Sport Nicola Bradburne. Sam Shantry was just being nice to her husband Adam, who has just finished an ECB knitting course (to help nervous cricket coaches stop biting their nails as they watch their teams for hours on end!).