SA netball provides a new heroine



Remembering the exceptional eight tries of Bryan Habana in 2007, or the vicious 166 AB de Villiers smashed against West Indies in 2015, South Africa must now shine the spotlight on a new sports hero — Karla Pretorius.

She was the focal point of the South African netball side’s impressive fourth place finish at the World Cup, which took place in Liverpool, England. When she was named Player of the 2019 Netball World Cup on Sunday, the 11 000 crowd in the M&S Bank Arena stood to applaud, not out of courtesy or perfunctionary respect, but because it was deserved.

As honoured as Pretorius was to receive the accolade, she labelled it a “bonus”, saying that she just wants to make sure that she is the best she can be for her team and play to the best of her abilities in the role she is given.

She became the first South African to win the award since Erin Burger — coincidentally Pretorius’s touring roommate — won it in 2011.

“When Erin won the award eight years ago it really inspired me. I have always believed that we can compete with the best in the world even though we don’t play as often as we would like against the top nations. Me winning this award shows that South Africa has the talent, players and team to go to the top. I am excited about the future of the Spar Proteas,” Pretorius said upon receiving the award.

Pretorius was formidable at this World Cup. Towering at 181cm, she uses her height to her advantage when making interceptions that allow her team to play on the frontfoot. Capable of playing both wing defence and goal defence, she understands the role of her position, reads every aspect of the game superbly and provides the security that central and attacking players need.

In netball, the wing defence can go into the centre and defensive thirds, but not in the attacking third or the goal circle. Their main job is to stop the ball reaching the goal circle. They must intercept passes and feed them back to the attacking areas.

Pretorius says she realised her dream of becoming a netball great long before she represented the University of the Free State — where she completed her master’s degree in dietetics this year — and won the Varsity Cup Player of the Tournament in 2014 and 2015. She said that her dreams and ambitions for herself in this sport were moulded in front of the television.

“The dream started at a young age by watching the national league games, and reading about Irene van Dyk, and Leana de Bruin playing overseas [in New Zealand]. It was a dream to play overseas and compete against the best in the world.”

After playing in the Free State, Pretorius moved to British side, Bath, and then to Australia where she currently represents Sunshine Coast Lightning.

She has conquered the Super Netball League in Australia twice, in 2017 and 2018, was crowned most valuable player for her performance in the 2017 final, and was named in the Super Netball League’s team of the year in 2018.

This year, her focus shifted to getting her country among the best in the world. At the World Cup the Spar Proteas narrowly lost out to Australia in the semifinals by 55 points to 53.

Most South Africans did not expect the netball team to be in the top four at the World Cup. But the team had quietly set their sights on a semifinal.

“Our aim was to get into the top four, and we did. So mission completed,” Pretorius said. “We now want to continue the momentum and development for the next four years up to the 2023 Netball World Cup in Cape Town and onwards.”

With the next tournament on home soil, the chance to kick on from the World Cup success and push a step further exists in the mind of Pretorius and her teammates.

As for Pretorius, kicking on from here spins around the narrative of happiness. She says that as long as she is playing netball and can still compete, she will enjoy it.

She hopes the Spar Proteas’s performance in Liverpool will help propel netball to becoming among the flagship sports in the country.

As a sporting nation, South Africa has been starved of silverware for more than a decade now with paper heroes failing to reach the lofty aspirations of supporters.

Perhaps it is time to start believing in heroines.

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Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia
Eyaaz Matwadia is a member of the Mail & Guardian's online team.

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