Tall Timbers – Round 2 SSN 2020

So much has been made of the super-shot in the Suncorp Super Netball competition this season and while it continues to consume much of the conversation around the sport in 2020, I am here to come out in support of the “tall timber” as shooters in this game are often referred to, and here is why…

The sport of netball has evolved and grown over the years; the athletes these days are fitter, faster and stronger than ever before, however, the one thing that has not changed or evolved and will never change, is that to win you MUST score more goals than the opposition. It is the beautiful simplicity of most sports. How each team chooses to do that is up to them; whether it be a shooter who is under the post or one who is perched inside edge of the circle it matters not, as long as Gilbert goes through the ring.

Because winning is the ultimate goal and mathematically you have the best opportunity of scoring the closer you are to the post, it stands to reason that since the beginning of time anyone who has ever played or coached the sport has instructed their players or team-mates to get as close to that steel post as possible. Let’s be serious, no shooter has ever taken a beautifully threaded ball from one of their feeders and thought, ‘Nah, I am too close I’m gonna step back and it give a go…’

Now, I love a long bomb as much as the next person. It is exciting and it can spark confidence in a team when it happens, but should it be worth more points than the skillful feed of a wing attack who has worked hard to find the circle edge, noticed the exact milli-second the defender has their eyes down and then managed to find a gap as small as a pin head to reach their shooter? The answer is no.

I know what you are going to say, sure a circle edge feed is pretty, but what about the lob into the tall shooter who just stands there? I hear you, so let me address that as well. Again, keeping in mind the whole point of netball is to score more points than the opposition, a tall shooter in your team is a god send and we should not pretend otherwise.

Have you ever joined a new netball team and rocked up to your first training session and prayed that the tall, giraffe-legged goddess you have spotted plays shooter? I have.

The work that a good shooter must do to create either front or back space for feeders to be able to pass them the ball should not be underestimated. There is lot of body positioning, feet positioning and timing that must be used at exactly the right time for it to come off and look good. There needs to be great elevation, a strong core and the understanding that you are going to be belted from pillar to post every time your feet leave the ground. It is not as easy as it looks, especially at the elite level.

To say that all shooters should be able to shoot from anywhere in the circle is a nice idea, but like any sporting team players have certain strengths and abilities. Good coaches see this and nurture it. If you are lucky, you can find a specialist to fill a position. In the same way we would praise a specialist wing defense (Gabi Simpson) wing attack (Kimberlee Green) or goal keeper (Laura Geitz), there should be no shame in being praised for being a specialist, holding shooter.

To put this into the context of our everyday lives, we would not for example, ask Karen from Human Resources to plan the annual budget that Kevin from accounts would usually do, now would we?

But the term ‘holding shooter’ has certainly lost its gloss in 2020. Is this because we are all meant to be flailing our pom poms about to endorse and support the super-shot?

In 2017 and 2018 Jhaniele Fowler from the West Coast Fever won MVP of the whole SSN competition. She is a holding shooter. Probably the best in the world and that is because she wins games. While she has the talent to sink shots from anywhere in the circle, to maximize her team’s chances of winning, you guessed it, Fowler is going to take the large majority of her shots from under the post. Shocking.

Jhaniele Fowler in action against the NSW Swifts in round two.
Photo credit from West Coast Fever article – Fever go down to Swifts in final seconds.

So, the same shooter who has won all the accolades and been the bench mark of shooting greatness in our sport for the last few years is suddenly a little redundant and boring? Interesting.

NSW Swifts shooter, Sophie Garbin single handedly changed the course of the game on the weekend with the best 15-minute stint I have ever watched a bench player have. Her team was down by seven goals when she entered the game at the start of the third quarter and the West Coast Fever looked like they were about to put their foot down and run away with the match. What happened next was nothing short spectacular, and the Swifts won the quarter by a mammoth 16 goals. Garbin scored 21 one-pointers, never looked at taking a super-shot and was still the most electrifying on court. Her body positioning was superb, her timing and hang time in the air was perfect, her strength to hold off defenders and take crucial rebounds, all text book perfect. She was a player who came on and played to her strengths, every single one of them, and that was exactly what her coach had asked for. Fever tried three different defenders on Garbin in 30 minutes, none making a dent.

Sophie Garbin in action – photo credit from athletes voice article ‘From desert to big Smoke – read here

Flanked by a goal attack who was happy to put up some of those longer shots in English Rose, Helen Housby, the different styles of both players complimented each other perfectly and are what netball dreams are made of.

Tonight, one of the most famous “tall timbers”of all, captain of the Australian Diamonds, Caitlin Bassett will take to the court in her 200th game. It is an incredible milestone for any elite athlete to make, especially one who has been at the top of her game for so long. Her list of achievements speaks for themselves, winning 2 Netball World Championships, Commonwealth Games gold and silver medals and she was part of the Sunshine Coast Lightning team that won the SSN in 2017 and 2018. The shooter has been voted International Netballer of the Year (2015) and won the Liz Ellis Diamond of the Year (2015). Bassett has also been able to hold a spot in the Diamonds squad since debuting in the yellow dress in 2008.

Caitlin Bassett celebrating a Diamonds win. Picture credit from TLA worldwide article. Read here.

There is still room in this game for shooters who plant their feet and demand the ball. We saw the most fantastic display of that with Garbin on the weekend and I was glad to see it. The commentators could do nothing but get excited about her performance because it was brilliant and could not be ignored. It did not fit the two-point narrative, but they were having fun calling the game none-the-less, and for a brief 15 minutes we once again enjoyed the skill of a “tall timber” who, at the end of the day did nothing more than get the ball through the ring, but wow, she sure did look amazing doing it.

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