Young gun Kelly’s rapid rise to the red dress

SOPHIE Kelly is living every kid’s dream. Playing the sport you love at a professional level being able to be seen by millions having fans cheering you on. The youngster has quickly become a favourite in England netball.

Debuting in the Netball Super League (NSL) at just 16-years-old, Kelly has made her way through the England pathway at a rapid pace.

It wasn’t what she expected, though, only making the change into the shooting end as a teen.

Beginning her career as a defender, Kelly always loved to grab a ball during training and head over to a post to shoot goals. It wasn’t until she begged her coach to swap ends to grant her the sense of euphoria when the ball goes through the ring.

Mainly a goal attack, Kelly can also be utilised in wing attack but feels a lot more free out on court when in her familiar shooting position. Loving both the shooting and feeding game, she found the position of goal attack to be her favourite fit.

“When I was about 13-years-old, I begged my coach to just let me have a go in the attacking end as a goal attack and then yeah, it went right in the game,” Kelly said.

“She was like, ‘Okay, we can do a little bit of this’.

“When I became a goaler, they realised that I wasn’t necessarily tall enough to be a goal shooter. They pushed me out to wing attack as well.

“So then I’ve been playing those two [positions] for the past five, six years.”

Kelly playing for her current club Team Bath (Image: Sophie Kelly/Instagram)

The 19-year-old is currently completing her studies in business management at the University of Bath, the same club she represents in the NSL.

The choice to move to Bath was an obvious one for Kelly, wanting to take a step up from mainly a training partner position to a full contract being able to take the court on a regular basis.

She also wants there to be a life after netball, so taking part in a further education was essential to her livelihood.

“At (Surrey) Storm I’d only ever been a training partner in the squad and when I spoke to Asha (Francis) about coming to Bath, she said they’d offer me a spot in the full 12,” Kelly said.

“That was really exciting to know that I’d have the opportunity to play in all the Super League games, be involved in the proper squad whilst also being able to complete my university studies on the side, all in the same place.”

Debuting with the Storm in Round One of the 2021 season, Kelly said they brought her up through the pathway acting as a second home for her.

Kelly playing for her first NSL club the Surrey Storm (Image: Sophie Kelly/Instagram)

“When I was younger I played for Hampshire, and then Surrey Storm led on from there,” she said.

“That’s where everyone from Hampshire goes to the county, and also the nearest one to my house.

“I basically joined Storm when I was 13, in the under 14s Storm Academy.”

Kelly went through all the age groups with Storm until Head Coach Mikki Austin offered her a contract for the 2021 season making her dreams come true.

Her rapid growth drew the eyes of the England selectors making her a shoo-in for the England underage sides, winning medals in the process.

One of the biggest achievements to-date for Kelly is being a key member of the Roses Academy. Being a part of the future faces of England netball gave her the chance to play against Under 21s NSL sides and the senior Wales team, giving great opportunities to the future of netball.

“The best thing about being in the Roses Academy is being able to play with different people from different parts of the country,” she said.

“It’s really great to go to camp, play against people who play in a different way to you or play with people.

“To come together with such a strong group of players, it was really, really challenging. That was a great opportunity for me to test my abilities against the best people my age in the country.”

Kelly playing for England in the Europe Netball Under 21s Championships (Image: Sophie Kelly/Instagram)

There’s still room for Kelly to grow and progress up the pathway, but for her at the moment it’s hard to beat the time representing England in Europe Netball.

“When it comes to European netball, there’s always this thing that England should win,” she said.

“There’s a lot of pressure on England to perform because the nation sees us as a stronger side. It was really good to go out there and show everyone that we were strong enough to win.

“You’ve played in a team of people, some of the people I’ve been playing with since I was 15 at England and then to go on and win under 21s was also really exciting.”

The under 21s camp was a more competitive environment than anticipated going head to head with some of the best netballing nations. It challenged the English as a team, but the excitement to have the opportunities at hand was too strong not to enjoy the journey.

Kelly was a year younger than the group and they still went on to win it all at the Europe Netball under 21s Championship.

Keen on another gold medal, Kelly currently has eyes for the Netball World Youth Cup next year which is well within her grasp. Wanting to take netball all the way, she’s ready to train her hardest to then progress into the senior England squad once completed her studies. 

“The dream would be to be fully professional in the Super League and England,” she said.

“Playing for a Super League side professionally would be absolutely amazing and would be a dream come true to be able to have netball as my job.”

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