Netball first team captains talk about friendships that go beyond the court, victorious season and regrets over Varsity cancellation.
“I was a very active child,” recalls Jess Rotheram, explaining why she got into netball in first place. “I tried lots of sports when I was growing up anyway, but netball was just this one sport that I really enjoyed.” Currently, she’s a second-year mathematics and finance student. She started playing netball at the age of six, following her sister’s footsteps. She has carried on through all stages of her education.
Similar did her co-captain, Rachel Gedge who says: “I’ve played netball my whole life.” She’s about to finish her studies at City, graduating this summer with a BA in criminology. She’s also planning to stay in London afterwards and promises to come down to CitySport to watch the games. “I’ve already said I’m coming to trials to help.”
Born in Australia, Gedge moved to London only before starting her City experience. “When I moved to the UK and decided to study here, netball was something that I played in Australia,” says Gedge, “so not knowing anyone when I came to university, it was one of the easiest ways to make friends because you’re automatically on a team with 10 other girls. For our club, we’ve got two teams, so it was immediately very close friends which you saw twice a week.”
She surely knows what she’s talking about. Gedge and Rotheram are close friends in and out of the court. In fact, they’re already saying that if Gedge isn’t able to go home for Christmas, she’ll stay with Rotheram and her family in Liverpool. Yet, even here in London, they’re all living with current and former City netball players.
Those friendships massively impact their performances as well. “If you’re close on a personal level, it makes it easier for you on the court to tell someone to do something and not take it personally,” says Rotheram. “We’re a competitive team and we play to win. Sometimes Rachel will tell me to do things and of course, I know Rachel is always my friend, but what she tells me on the court, she’s just telling to be helpful. Having that understanding of each other really helps.”
Although socialising is important for the whole team, Rotheram says: “We don’t force people to be social. If you don’t wanna go out and drink, we get it. We just want to enjoy that victory together, drunk or not.”
They used to be regular City Bar visitors, but now they do casual things like grabbing a coffee or bake treats. “We socialise together, but outside of Wednesday in City Bar. I think what’s been really nice is everyone, especially within the first team, are really in a genuine and close connection that I think it will grow past finishing university,” says Gedge.
There are obviously exceptions to their non-party socialising like winning the cup final. But even then the point was “reminiscing the day” and not drinking.
So, what’s the best memory from the season? “Cup final. Winning. Without a doubt,” decisively says Rotheram. Gedge follows: “There were tears, there was prosecco in the changing rooms. It was such a good day, it was the highlight of this year.”
The Wolfpack has never won the netball cup before. Last year the team’s first season game was also a cup game. “It was an entirely new team who has never played together before and I think we lost by four,” says Gedge about the game that also happens to be Rotheram’s first performance for the university.
Yet, this season was different. “We just kept winning,” recalls Gedge, “and I was sort of expecting that we’d lose one and get a couple of free Wednesdays, but we kept on having to rearrange fixtures for our league.”
Reaching the final stage of the cup required outstanding form, so they don’t have any regrets regarding this season’s performances. “We can’t improve on never losing,” says Rotheram. She also makes a testament to the second-team players who occasionally stepped in to help win the games.
“I think we’ve done the groundwork over the last two years for the team to really be connected and bonded,” says Gedge. “This year has been amazing because we haven’t lost a game, we won the league, we won the cup and … we would have won Varsity.”
Unfortunately, the biggest sporting event at City cancelled due to coronavirus. It was going to be a special one for the netball team. They would have been the showcase game on the last day of Varsity. That meant full tribunes of cheering City students and having the final say on who wins the trophy.
“This year, having that time slot, feels like we’re recognised by the university and the sports department in terms of our success and chances. We were pretty excited about it,” says Gedge. “They obviously believed in us by giving that time slot. They wouldn’t have given it thinking ‘oh yeah, they’re gonna lose’,” adds Rotheram.
Having already closed up the league and cup games, Varsity was supposed to be their last game of the season. Especially the exiting captain, Gedge says: “As for my final year I was so excited for Varsity to be my swan song and my last university netball memory.”
Then, she adds: “Obviously we completely understand why it’s been cancelled and everything that is going on is pretty scary. But that being cancelled was pretty devastating.”