Charlie Bell at the ANC Championships. (Photo: Netball Australia; Design: Will Cuckson)

It’s been a year to remember for Queensland shooter Charlie Bell, who followed up a call-up as a Queensland Firebirds training partner with a bronze medal at the Australian Netball Championships.

A product of the Queensland pathway, Bell has burst onto the scene this season after a successful campaign with the Brisbane North Cougars in the Sapphire Series, where she also added a premiership and the Grand Final MVP award.

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, Bell recapped the strong year she’s had in her netball journey.

“I just had the best year ever and I think it helps being in majority of those teams with the same girls,” Bell told The Inner Sanctum.

“I know a lot of us [were] from [the] Cougars [and] being like one of the standout teams when majority of us made the Sapphire squad, I think it just made things that little bit easier and the connections were already pre-formed.

“It was just about getting ready to like muscle up against the other successful State League teams that had made up the other ANC teams.

“I had the best time this year, I’m just really excited to see how much further I can push myself and next year alongside some of those girls as well.”

It was a strong campaign from the Sapphires despite falling short to Victoria Fury for a place in the gold medal match.

After losing that match, Bell said there’s no way that they were going home without a medal.

“The standard was exceptional, it was so fast and It was physical and it was unreal I loved every second of it,” she continued.

“[We were] so gutted to miss out on the opportunity to play for the gold medal match when we lost against Victoria.

“I just think as much as it hurt, it fuelled all of us girls so much that we were like… we’re still leaving here with a medal it’s just not going to be gold, it’s going to be rose gold.

“[We found that] just taking that attitude into the final when we [played] Collingwood… just set us up for the belief that we had to get midway through the game. We were kind of just trailing a bit and it really just fired us up.

“Our captain [Hulita Veve] told us, which I probably will never forget, in a little hands in huddle before we went on for the last quarter, she said, ‘if you can no longer run with your legs you need to run with your heart’, and I just think that encapsulates the whole of the tournament with our Sapphires team.

“We just had the best camaraderie, the best connections on and off court and I just think that being the best of mates really helped us to be so successful.”

Having connections with the likes of Leesa Mi Mi and Macy Gardner from the past season at the Cougars allowed Bell to find her confidence throughout the series.

“Having Leesa and Mace out the front that I had while I was at Cougars, really helped my confidence and composure at ANC, because obviously the level is so much higher,” she explained.

“Some of the players you’re up against are literally contracted SSN (Suncorp Super Netball) players, so it was just it was really nice having that reassurance like we’ve done this before.

“I know that they’re brave enough to give me the ball, I know that they trusted me that I’ll grab it. It was just a really good little bond that we had and I’m just super stoked to have shared it with those girls.”

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Prior to the ANC tournament, Bell spent her first season as a Queensland Firebirds training partner. It wasn’t until she got into that environment that she realised that she was capable of so much more than she thought.

“Firebirds just taught me that I only think about what I’m capable of, but then I don’t realise that I’m capable of so much more,” she said.

“It’s such a mental thing… being in [an] environment that I’d never been exposed to properly before. [It has helped] to be under Megan Anderson, Katie Walker, Claire Ferguson, Brynley and Georgia, like all of them.

“Having them hold such high expectations and standards for me from the get-go, it’s kind of just allowed me to hold myself to those standards and push through what I didn’t even think I was capable of.

“At the start, I would be passed out… compartmentalising on the baseline, not able to finish conditioning, and I was like ‘there’s no way I can do this, I’ve never done this before, my body isn’t up to it’.

“They’re like ‘stop, just you don’t listen to yourself, you’re so much better than this’, and I had to believe in them that they believed in me, and I didn’t believe in myself.  

“To finish where I am now after all of this training and all the growth that I’ve had from Firebirds and being underneath Liz White at Cougars, I just I pinch myself that I am where I am so quickly after just like one year.

“I’m a completely different person and player so I definitely have a lot to owe Firebirds and Cougars.

Bell made the move from the Ipswich Jets to the Brisbane North Cougars for the 2022 Sapphire Series to help her achieve her goal of one day pulling on the purple dress.

“That was the first year for me in Cougars after coming from Jets,” she explained.

“It was a bit controversial with Cougars and Jets always [butting] heads. I had the Firebirds to dream of making even just like training partner eventually, hopefully one day a contract that would be unreal.

“I knew that my one of my best friends Mia Stower had made it. She’d been through the coaches at Cougars, and Ruby Bakewell-Doran, she’d done the same. I was like maybe I just need a change of scenery and just to switch things up.

“I honestly think it was a great move and I don’t regret anything. I’m just so happy about how much Cougars have done for me and really grateful to Liz and Amanda.”

Capping off a stunning year, Bell was named in the Australian Under 21 team alongside some of the best up and coming talent there is in Australia.

She explained that a setback a few years ago drove her to make the squad this time around.

“I think it was two years ago that they had named a team, and that I really wanted to make that team but I didn’t. It just definitely motivated me go up a gear,” she said.

“Every time something at Firebirds or Cougars got hard where I was like, ‘I really don’t want to do this’ or ‘I just don’t feel like [it]’, I just thought about the Australian 21s team that I didn’t make, and I said ‘no, I’m making it this year’ and I strived for that.  

“I thought at ANC just like go out there give it everything you have.

“I say you have nothing to lose because I don’t want to put pressure on myself more than there already is but I just wanted to play the best netball, have a good time and I think that really helped me keep my cool in some of the tense moments of that final and other big games that we came up against.

“I’m just so excited to have made it. I’m so humbled and so grateful and I just have so many people to thank that helped get me there.”

The cherry on top for Bell was to be named alongside Sapphires teammate and close friend in Mi Mi, with the pair having gone through the Queensland pathway together. The pair were also announced as two of the Firebirds training partners for 2023.

“Leesa and I are like best mates outside of netty, we’re in a really close little group,” Bell explained.

“It was just awesome to be named with her, to have gone from Queensland U17s, Under 19s, underage Aussie squads then Cougars then ANC and now this. I’m really proud of her and she deserves everything.”

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