Alumni at the helm of region’s first premier netball franchise
The region’s newest professional sporting team, the South Coast Blaze, have made a strong showing in their debut netball season, with the University of Wollongong (UOW) proud to be supporting the team as a major partner in their first year.
The South Coast Blaze draws young players from the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, and South Coast, with teams in the Open and Under 23s divisions.
Late last year, the UOW Community Investment Program sponsored South Coast Blaze to support the new franchise in their 2020 inclusion in the Netball NSW Premier League.
After emerging from training in COVID-19 lockdown, the Blaze has made a promising start to the season.
The Opens team recently recorded its first ever win, while the Under 23s team sits on top of its conference ladder with seven wins from seven games.
Karina Franke, Chair of South Coast Blaze, said it has been an exceptional start for the fledgling franchise, despite the challenges presented by bushfires and then COVID-19.
“A pathway to the professional league has never existed on the South Coast before,” she said.
“Talented athletes were also required to travel or to move to Sydney to pursue an elite pathway in netball. Often that meant that we would lose those players at the club level, or for those athletes who didn’t want to travel, they would defer to a different sport, such as rugby league or cricket.
“Now that pathway is there for players all along to South Coast. We call ourselves the Blaze family. We’ve really bonded together and we are really stoked with how the season has been so far.”
In addition to being a major partner, UOW has strong connections to both the players and the administrative side of the South Coast Blaze.
Abbey McFadden, co-captain of South Coast Blaze Opens team alongside Taylah Davies, said she was thrilled to be at the helm of the region’s first premier netball team.
A player since the age of eight, Abbey graduated from UOW at the end of 2019 with a Bachelor of Commerce (Dean’s Scholar), majoring in Accounting.
“We are halfway through the season now, which was disrupted because of COVID-19, and we’ve built some really great connections so far. For a team that has come in fresh to the competition, we have really clicked and gelled.”
Abbey grew up in Balgownie and spent her years as a young netballer driving to and from Sydney, up to five days a week, for training and games.
She said having a local team will not only help young players today but also those who are looking to step up to the premier league in years to come.
“It is a real honour to play for South Coast Blaze and to play alongside my co-captain Taylah. It is the first time that netball has been recognised at a higher level in the region. It gives all those netball players a visible goal in their hometown, that they can see and strive towards.
“To have UOW’s support as well is amazing, as it enables us to be able to play at this level and in this competition. The funding for women’s sport and for netball has not been available in the past.”
Dr Melissa Thompson, Senior Manager Advancement Services and Community Engagement at UOW, said the University was proud to be a partner of South Coast Blaze.
“It is really exciting that there is now an opportunity for South Coast-based netballers to compete at this level,” Dr Thompson said.
“UOW is really proud to be supporting South Coast Blaze.”
The UOW connections form a significant contribution to the team’s management and players’ line-up which includes eight UOW alumni, five of whom are on the Board. There are also five current UOW students spread across the Under 23s and Opens teams.
Caption: South Coast Blaze Opens co-captain Abbey McFadden (in red) on the court. Photo: Supplied