Edge of the Crowdis celebrating 25 years of the Adelaide Thunderbirds, reflecting with dual-premiership player and previous captain Erin Bell on her eight years at the club.
Read about the early years:25 YEARS OF THE ADELAIDE THUNDERBIRDS: MARGARET ANGOVE ON SUCCESSFUL BEGINNINGS
Erin Bell is a familiar name in netball right across Australia. The NSW Swift turned Adelaide Thunderbird was an Australian Diamond who ended her career at the Collingwood Magpies.
As a netballer, she was a roaming, sharp-shooting attacker; as a person, she loves structure, works hard and has always given back to the sport at the grassroots level.
In Adelaide, Bell became a two-time premiership player, was offered opportunities to represent her country, and built a booming business, EB Netball.
She was also there for some tough times. As things started taking a turn for the "hunted" Thunderbirds, Bell was the captain who had to keep showing up, but more on that in part two.
Bell spoke toEdge of the Crowdabout her eight years at the club, looking back fondly on her time getting to know South Australia like the back of her hand.
Moving to Adelaide: 'that's it, I'm going'
“I was recruited into the Swifts when I was young. I was 18 and I was in the team for five years, but I was not getting much court time at all and I was behind Australian goal shooters, I mean Cath Cox, Susan Pratley (Pettit)! So I kind of understood why I was on the bench.
“But, after five years, I'd finished my uni degree, and I was kind of ready, and I thought, I just needed an opportunity.”
At the end of the 2009 season, Bell was told she would not be offered another contract at the Swifts, which was an upsetting reality but one she’d started to come to terms with. Little did she know one day, while at work, a call from Adelaide would change the course of her netball career entirely and the ‘delisted’ would become a Diamond.
“Randomly one day I was at work and I had kind of accepted well, I'll just, you know, get on with it - work.
“I got a call from Jane Woodlands-Thompson and I still remember I was at work in the storeroom, she offered me a position at the Thunderbirds, and I just knew straight away, 'oh well, that's it, I'm going'.
“Thought I better talk to my mum and my family and my boss, but yeah, I definitely knew straight away as soon as I hung up the phone that, that was what I was going to do.”
Bell had followed the Thunderbirds as a junior netballer, one of her favourite players was Diamonds’ goal attack, Jacqui Delaney. It was a quick process, but within weeks she was hitting the court with a new team, in a new state.
“I was just so stoked and probably shocked that I had this lifeline from Jane (Woodlands-Thompson) and packed my bags and I was there within two months, two-to-three months, after that call.”
Taking opportunities: ‘I’d never played wing attack’
Bell started on the bench in the opening rounds of the 2010 season, a position she’d become familiar with at the Swifts.
While Bell had moved for more opportunity, everything else about that year was “just new and exciting” so it didn’t faze her too much.
“I remember I was on the bench the first couple of games and I was very comfortable there because I was there a lot at the Swifts, so I was like that’s fine.
“But then one of the girls got injured, Jo Sutton did her Achilles… there was then an opportunity for me to take the court and I actually took the court in Round Three against the Firebirds.”
But the opportunity was in wing attack, a position Bell had never played before.
“I still remember it [her first game]! In wing attack, and I'd never played wing attack at all, so it was a little bit of a shock.
“But I remember Jane had said to me that she was impressed with my preseason and she knew I was fit and she just needed me to like run it out and that was kind of what I did.
“I just ran around not really knowing exactly what I was doing, but gave it my best shot. And I remember we won that game by one and so then I started the next week in wing attack and that's kind of how it went.
“I was just taking every opportunity that I got to be out there, because I'd wanted to be out on court for so long and just to be out there in a different position, I just didn't even care. I could have been playing anything and it would have wouldn't have mattered.”
There are obvious similarities between wing and goal attack, it’s a switch we’ve seen from the likes of Georgie Horjus and Alice Teague-Neeld in the Super Netball this season.
But how did a young goaler switch her mindset and play the new role?
“I just learnt from the players around me,” Bell said. And they were some impressive names.
“I had Nat von Bertouch in centre, so a pretty good player to play with in the midcourt and she directed the play and then we had a Kate Beveridge and Carla Borrego in the goal circle, so two very good goalers to be able to feed.
“I think I just played my role, I wasn't trying to be the best player out there, I certainly wasn't trying to be the best wing attack. I was trying to do the best I could, but I knew that my style of game was a lot different to a lot of the other players in that position, so I just kind of played my role and fed the ball and just took it all in and obviously improved as the year went on."
Her advice now, to younger players, is to “grab that third position bib and give it a go” because it might be the reason you make a representative team.
“I'm very grateful for that opportunity, because having that third position as a wing attack has certainly helped me throughout my career, when it came to Diamond selections and just having that versatility... it just really helped me.”
Premiership player: a ‘surreal’ first year in Adelaide
After playing mainly wing attack for 12 rounds of the 2010 ANZ Championships, the mastermind of the Adelaide Thunderbirds, coach Jane Woodlands-Thompson, had another trick up her sleeve – Erin Bell at goal attack.
“In the semi final, Jane pulled me aside and said 'oh you're actually going to play goal attack now', and after a season of wing attack, I was like, 'what are you doing?'
“She threw a curveball at the opposition, they weren't expecting it, I wasn't expecting it, but I was always, I was a goaler first, so just went out there and did my best and then we ended up making the grand final and winning.”
The move of Bell into the goal circle was a winning move in the 2010 finals series. Up against her old team the Swifts in the Major Semi-Final, Bell put on a show, scoring 12 from 16, providing five assists and taking 15 centre pass receives – the most for either team that day - in a 52-38 victory.
Reflecting on the Grand Final that followed two weeks later, although the 2013 one is more vivid in her mind, Bell says every part of that year, and the day itself, was “surreal”.
“To be able to play goal attack, I just knew I just felt really comfortable and supported in that line up.
“I was nervous [for the grand final], but like in a good way, like I knew we could do it, because, again, I had Nat (von Bertouch) in centre, I had one of my best mates, Emily Beaten, in wing attack and Carla Borrego in the circle with me.
“So, I had, and throughout my whole time playing with Carla (Borrego), I always had the confidence to go to the post because she was so strong at rebounding I kind of thought, if I miss it doesn't matter, she's gonna get it anyway!
“I think we ended up winning by 10 in the end.. it just allowed us to actually enjoy the last few minutes of the game.
“Whereas, in the 2013 Grand Final it was close and stressful but being able to actually look around at your teammates and just enjoy that last five minutes knowing that we had won, yeah, and again, knowing that bond that we had, it was just pretty special.”
The final score in the grand final was 52-42, a comprehensive job by Adelaide at home at the Entertainment Centre.
With a premiership under her belt, and having played 12 rounds and two finals matches, Bell was “very happy with [her decision to move to Adelaide.”
Dual-premiership player: ‘I just wish I could bottle up the confidence’
In 2011, the reigning premiers failed to make finals – every team was hunting them and every team had a plan to pull them apart. But in 2012, they returned to the action only to fall a goal short in an incredibly tight minor semi-final of eventual premiers, the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.
Then, in 2013, came the club’s fourth premiership and Bell’s second.
“I think we all got a bit of a taste for [success] and then we just wanted more, and we knew we could do it, so we had that bar set high,” Bell said of the strive to succeed from 2010 to 2013.
“Jane always had very high expectations of the group and we were there to win and not just there to play and be competitive, but all of us expected to win…
“Also, I guess, having been in the 2010 Grand Final, also knowing what it took to get there.
“Our team changed a lot, though, between those years. We lost a few players, we gained a few players, but just I think our culture and just that high expectation of we're here to win and also, as I said, like with the 2010 team, just having that bond off the court, we had the same kind of bond in the 2013 team.”
Reflecting on the 2013 season, Bell remembers a level of confidence she wishes she could just “bottle up”.
“I felt really confident, and I would go to the post and I just, as I said, I wish I could bottle that up because that confidence didn't last for my entire career, it went in ebbs and flows, but that year I just remember, personally, I felt really confident.
“And as a team, we had gone through the season winning games by only two goals, we'd been down, we'd been able to push back and we'd always had that belief in each other that even if we were down, we knew that we'd be able to pull it back and win and we won so many of our games that year by one or two goals.”
Adelaide won two games by one goal, three games by two goals and games by three and four in 2013. While it was always close, they dropped just one game for the year - to the Melbourne Vixens by 14 goals in Round Two.
“I think heading into the Grand Final, we were down, but we'd always been down, and we knew how to peg it back and we just had that belief in each other.
“And, again, I wish I could bottle it up because I don't exactly know why we had it or where or how we created it, but obviously a lot of it came from the coaching staff and the structures they put in place and just the effort and the passion of the girls to make it happen.”
The Thunderbirds were initially down by four at the end of the first quarter after a series of misses in the shooting circle. Then Bell got her eye in, and they turned it around for a one goal lead into the half-time break.
In the ‘premiership’ quarter, the Thunderbirds put their foot down, a 16-11 third term gave them a six-goal lead that had fans at the stadium breathing a little easier.
That margin was reduced in the opening minutes of the fourth, with Romelda Aiken-George having a nice start against what had been an impressive performance from Sharni Layton. There was just a goal splitting the two teams half-way through the final quarter and again in the 14thminute, but a final intercept from von Bertouch and a goal by Bell secured the title, 50-48.
“We were just really well drilled and just had a lot of belief… throughout the whole Grand Final we were down, and I had no doubt that we were going to win,” Bell said, reflecting on the closing stages of the match.
“I think Nat got a crucial turnover in the end, and I had to shoot like a goal at the end, but just again, that belief, like it was just there throughout the whole game.”
Stay tuned for part two with Erin Bell, coming soon.