By Caitlin Zerafa and Danielle Ford.
Seven games into the Suncorp Super Netball season and the Sunshine Coast’s first-ever national elite team is delivering results both on and off the court.
Their efforts on court have resulted in a current second placing on the ladder, while their off-court engagement within the community has been a winner for locals.
The Sunshine Coast Lightning’s community and fan engagement manager Georgia Galton says the team love being involved in the community.
“The girls have a lot of upcoming events including school holiday clinics, open training sessions and school visits,” she says.
Some of the players additionally made a recent trip to the newly opened Sunshine Coast University Hospital to visit with the kids in the children’s wing.
Local netball associations are also benefiting from a national team based on the coast.
“There have been increases at local netball associations of girls signing up to play and a lot more general awareness of netball in the community which is fantastic,” Galton says.
“We hope that is a flow on of having a team based here locally.”
Nambour District Netball Association president Leeann Pacey agrees having a locally based team has helped boost local participation in the sport.
“Numbers are stable, slowly growing and I think as we go forward and the Lightning increase in the media we’ll see a flow on effect to the increase in numbers,” she says.
“Especially with the Commonwealth Games next year, people will see some of our Lightning girls there and that will be a huge draw card for netball on the coast.”
The Association held a meet and greet with Lightning captain Geva Mentor on March 28 and she says it’s a great chance for the young athletes to interact with their idols.
“It gives them something to strive to, having something like this so close in our own backyards shows them the dream is attainable,” Pacey says.
One of the biggest participation boosts has been in the older age groups which has come as a surprise to Pacey.
“Surprisingly our Sunshine Coast University competition has increased majorly,” she says.
“It’s for ages 15 and up and we usually get 26 to 28 teams but this year we had 33 or 34 teams join, so we actually have a waitlist for that comp.”
The team has had great support at local games throughout the season, with Ms Pacey herself having attended multiple training sessions and games.
The Lightning’s next home game is May 12 at the USC Stadium against the West Coast Fever.