NSW Swifts Youth Brigade driving veteran premiership hopes

The NSW Swifts may be experienced, but their young stars are making the difference in finals.

The NSW Swifts are talked about with the rarefied air rightly deserved for a team littered with dual premiership players, and Super Netball centurions. All across the court, there is experience that helps drives standards, and sets the tone across the game.

Over the course of the 2022 and 2023 season, it hasn’t just been those international stars that have done the heavy lifting for the Swifts, as a new brigade comes through.

Led by Tayla Fraser, who has now notched more than 50 games, a new generation of Swifts are coming through, and they have made their impact on the finals series already.

Tayla Fraser prepares to switch onto the court, swapping with Maddy proud. Image: Dan Coppel

Tayla Fraser prepares to switch onto the court, swapping with Maddy proud. Image: Dan Coppel

Fraser, who has been thrust back into the wing defence slot with Allie Smith’s injury, has memorably starred for the Swifts in that position in 2021, but has been tasked with taking on a starting role against some of the most dangerous attackers in the league in recent weeks, with Georgie Horjus and Alice Teague-Neeld in the last fortnight alone.

Alongside her in the midcourt is the emerging Lili Gorman-Brown, who has been elevated into the Swifts team as a result of Smith’s injury.

Last week, Gorman-Brown logged more than a quarter of action, in her role across the midcourt, pushing the speed of the ball and the tempo of the match. After the match, Gorman-Brown explained what it felt like to take on the moment in such a big match.

"I go into a phase where I have to go out there and do my best for the girls, and do my job," Gorman-Brown said.

"I just go into that mode where I hep my teammates and stick to the basics and try and just go out there and back myself.

"Its easier when you are out there, you are in control and I trust the girls to get the job done anyway. I am here to support everyone and do my job."

Gorman-Brown explained that the moment was the culmination of her journey through the Swifts' programs to get ready to take the big stage.

"This is my dream, and I hope it's only the beginning for me," the young midcourter said.

"It's very exciting and I am loving learning from everyone in this environment."

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Gorman-Brown is only the latest in the young group though. Over the last two years, Teigan O’Shannassy has also stepped up in a big way, becoming a key part of the defensive end for the Swifts – playing as a specialist goal keeper against taller holding defenders.

O’Shannassy has been heavily used since returning from a calf injury in the finals, playing against Lucy Austin and Jhaniele Fowler in the finals so far.

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Her play has allowed Sarah Klau to play further up the court, and be effective against smaller goal attacks and provide a physical presence all over the defensive circle.

O’Shannassy is in her second year as a contracted player, but Sophie Fawns has had a slightly different journey to her place with the Swifts.

Stepping into the side when Sam Wallace suffered a knee injury at the start of the 2022 season, Fawns has gone through ups and downs in her short time with the Swifts.

The last fortnight have been no different, as Fawns played just three minutes during the semi final against the Thunderbirds, thrust into action during extra time, and coming up short.

It was an emotional moment for Fawns, who had her teammates get behind her ahead of her appearance during the preliminary final against the West Coast Fever.

"I think last week, it was the nerves came on to me, and having three minutes, I felt bad on that last shot," Fawns explained. "I think it comes down to to those crucial moments and today, I just wanted to turn a new leaf."

"Having the support of my team - they all came up to me before the game and said 'don't you dare apologise to us, we we are all a part of this team. We win together, we lose together' and just that support is something that I couldn't ask for anything better."

The preliminary final was a different story, as Fawns was involved early in the game, and continued to have a big impact as the game wore on, particularly in the final quarter.

In the last stanza, and particularly the final five minutes where the Super Shot was in play, Fawns played a major role with three of four super shots, a deflection and a rebound, all in the last quarter.

It was her run of three Super Shots on back to back to back possessions to close the gap and bring the Swifts level that brought the crowd to their feet.

"I think it's a confidence thing," Fawns said.

"Once you find your rhythm, after you sink those first few shots and you know what it feels like, what its going to feel like when it goes in and getting that feel for the shot.

"Again, having Helen [Housby] or [Romelda], or we've got [Paige and Maddy] around us or to get the ball back it it does miss, and having those at home helps to fight back."

Fawns was also the one on the end of a typical Swifts play – as the Swifts possessed the ball for the final 70 seconds of the match, preventing the Fever from any chance of a last-second goal.

Fawns was tasked, with ten seconds left, of hitting the goal to put the Swifts ahead, prevent extra time for a second week in a row and book the Swifts’ place in the grand final.

Sophie Fawns has made a big impact for the Swifts this season. Image: Dan Coppel

Sophie Fawns has made a big impact for the Swifts this season. Image: Dan Coppel

After the game, Swifts coach Briony Akle was full of praise for Fawns, and for all her young players.

“There’s certainly underpinning programs, and the QBE Academy is that breeding ground for them, and just to be able to come in and out each week, we have our training partners come in and Lili is one of those.

“She has come into the team so it just shows that having those programs underneath and working with our players week in and week out.”

If the Swifts are to win a third premiership in five years this weekend against the Thunderbirds, it will require another strong outing from the young brigade from the Swifts, as they look to write their names into the history books.