Mavericks strive to prosper next season after a tumultuous 2020

HAVING re-signed the majority of their star-studded lineup for 2021, Saracens Mavericks are certainly among the ones to watch in the Vitality Netball Superleague (VNSL) next season. Draft Central spoke with Head Coach Kat Ratnapala and dynamic defender Razia Quashie about how their side is shaping up for next year, the crossover between Roses and club training and how the franchise has coped during financial struggles over the past few months. 

Like most VNSL clubs, Mavericks were facing financial difficulties. They have been upfront about their struggles and earlier in the year they chose to start a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money for the season. The cost of running a franchise is very high, and without ticket sales and sponsorship revenue, the cracks were beginning to show. 

“We’re still really keen to make sure that we are working as hard as we can behind the scenes to make ends meet,” Ratnapala said. “We’re not hiding away from the fact that we did need to crowdfund… We’re really humbled by all the support that we got.”

The UK government also announced this week that they are providing emergency funding to certain sports which have been severely impacted by the pandemic, and this includes £4 million for netball – which is divided equally between England Netball and Superleague. This will certainly be a sigh of relief for franchises, however at least some of the money will need to be repaid and this could cause issues later down the line. Ratnapala stressed the importance of ensuring the season can go ahead this year, to avoid further damage to the sport. 

“It’s so important to get netball out there again. The biggest thing is making sure we’ve got that visibility of the league and our fantastic players. You’ve got a lot of players moving from Australia back to the UK to play – and the standard of the game is increasing over here.”

Despite attracting top quality players to the league this year, netball in the UK is still only semi-professional, and there is also not a huge amount of transparency around player contracts and how the franchises operate from a business perspective, leaving fans in the dark around decisions. 

“We’ve just had the salary cap reduced this year from last year, and it does have implications to the squad and the options you have available to you as a club,” Ratnapala said.

Mavericks have kept the vast majority of their players from last season, meaning their lineup is well connected and ready to take on the challenge of 2021.

“Defensively, although we had Jodie (Gibson) last year she wasn’t able to step out on court with us, so it will be nice to have her back and see what we’ve got in the tank,” Quashie said. “And I think me and Jo have been building for the past two years… it will be good to see what we can put out on court.”

One major change for the Hertfordshire side will be the loss of George Fisher to Southern Steel. The prolific shooter was an incredible target for Mavericks and held up the attacking end for the past few seasons. Her replacement is Ine-Mari Venter, who moves to the club from the Queensland Firebirds

“Ine-Mari has an incredible background, she’s played internationally for South Africa, she was signed for a couple of years over in the SSN… She’s a very humble athlete but a very exciting one, and we’re looking forward to developing her skills in both shooter and goal attack positions.”

With the addition of Venter, this Mavericks side have international experience across all seven positions, and they are in a strong position to compete for the top four next year.

“We have every possible piece to be a winning team, it’s just a matter of if we want it,” said Quashie. “We’ve got everything there, it’s just for us we need the fight.”

Quashie, who made her debut for England in 2018, is part of the full-time Roses programme and is developing as one of the brightest prospects for England in the defensive end. The Roses trained together throughout the summer, in line with the UK’s return to elite sport structure, and these athletes now split their time between their club and England training during the winter period. 

“The good thing about having Kat involved in the England setup is that it’s an easy transition when you come back from England and go to Saracens,” Quashie said. “Everything is so effortless and it’s so similar. Although it’s two teams it’s basically one because the communication they have between each other is very good.”

“For us it is about being adaptable and making sure that we’re making the most of the time when we have the players available,” Ratnapala said. “With the move of the Jamaica series being pushed back until January, it does mean that the Roses players are able to train with us in December which is fantastic news.”

Quashie will certainly be a contender for selection for the upcoming home international series, and following her standout performance against New Zealand she has done everything to prove she is ready for the big stage. Ratnapala was acting Head Coach for the series and gave her thoughts on the young defender’s performance. 

“Razia really stepped up to the mark, I was really pleased and proud of her, as well as a number of the other athletes representing England. From a Mavericks perspective, it was great to see her out there in an England dress, she definitely rose to the occasion.”

With several Roses who compete in the SSN now back in camp, including Layla Guscoth and Stacey Francis, the selection process for Jess Thirby will be a tough one. The level of competition for places, particularly in the defensive end, is extremely high. Quashie views this challenge as an advantage, and something that will inspire her to push herself to the next level.

“There’s always going to be someone better, there’s always going to be someone who has that certain edge, but you shouldn’t look at that as a bad thing, you should look at that as a motivator for you to get up there. If we’re all on court pushing for that position we can only get better and better.”

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