THE future of netball in Herefordshire is looking strong, according to the county organisation’s chairman.
Helen Bowden, who combines her role at the head of Herefordshire Netball with another as lead coach with the county’s only regional club, Westside, is now seeing hard work put in at junior level paying off.
But she sounds a note of caution about short-term senior prospects.
“We are very strong at under-14, -16 and -19 levels which is why we are entering the under-19 league this time,” she said.
“At senior level, we are slightly weaker - as it always is. This time we have lost a few more players off to university and also pregnancies so we’ll be starting the new season with very much a development squad.
“We have four or five seniors and then we’ll be bringing through the under-19s. “We expect it will take a little time to settle but we hope that, by the end of the season, we will be strong.
“The under-19 side will have to step up to senior level which is quite a big challenge for them and each year we have one or two playing. It’s tough for them but it’s good for them to develop their netball.
“We just have to watch that they are mentally prepared because it’s quite tough.
“You put the players in when you think they are physically and mentally able to cope with it.”
The growing interest in netball at junior level will see another club opening its doors this month.
“We are setting up South Hereford Tigers which gives more children the chance to get to a club because that is where they improve their netball,” said Bowden.
“That then means the county sides are stronger.
“At the moment, at county level, we have 10 or 11 girls out of 30 who are very strong but we haven’t got the strength in depth. “The South Hereford club will give the girls there the chance to be stronger and it all improves the whole thing - we are always looking five years ahead.
“The South Hereford is a junior club and will start with years seven and eight - netball development officer Lucy Cassidy has been really helpful with that - we started in the spring working with year six girls in the junior schools around the Academy, then when they go to the Academy we have hopefully got them hooked so they will come as year sevens and year eights.”
“There is no longer a junior league in the county, so we get the clubs to play inter-club matches so, on a monthly-basis, we have Leominster against Hereford and now, with South Hereford as well, there can be Leominster against Hereford against South Hereford.
“Westside Juniors then play at regional level so they play regional competition instead.
“We have to keep working very hard to bring our juniors through.”
Bowden’s own coaching career began with even younger players.
“I got involved when my son started junior school,” she said.
“They didn’t have anyone coaching the netball and I said that I had played and would come and do it.
“I was just coaching after school and really enjoyed it and thought that I would take my qualifications. “I did my level one and then got involved a little bit at county level, helping out with some under-16s.
“I was just doing a little and then the county had a major restructure in 2007. “The county commission resigned and I thought ‘hang on you can’t do that’ because there wouldn’t be any county level. So I stepped in as chair of the county, we then needed to form Westside otherwise there would be no competitive netball in Hereford so I then said I would be chair of the club as well.
“Jaydee Hunt was secretary and captain while I was coach.
“Since then, we have developed a really good team of administrators and coaches. It’s just grown.”
The countdown is on to the start of the new season with Westside’s first West Midlands Netball League Division Two clash set for September 21 and the under-19s get under way the previous Sunday.
And a new arrival is set to boost the senior squad for the coming season.
“We hope to have a former England under-19 player who is now 25 and has just moved to the area,” said Bowden. “We do usually seem to get someone who has dropped into the area and I’m hoping that she might just slot in.
“The senior side is well-established - last season we finished in mid-table and so we are capable.
“We have had some very good players over the years - the likes of Jaydee Hunt and Kelly Stevens - and we had a strong nucleus at the beginning.
“As they have left, we have been struggling to fill the gap, but the under-14s who are coming through now - there are five who are potentially regional players - are very strong and so the future is pretty rosy.”
Anyone interested in playing netball at a regional level should visit herefordshirenetball.co.uk or email Helen Bowden on helen@ orphans.co.uk for details.
Training is on Mondays and Thursdays this month and on Mondays only from October onwards.