Off the back of a string of performances that announced her to the Suncorp Super Netball League, Tayla Williams speaks to The Inner Sanctum exclusively about her netball idol, the faith that her coach showed in her development and how she plans to contribute to the team for the rest of the season.
Announcing herself to the competition in back to back full games as the centre for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Tayla Williams is one to watch in the current day and in the future. The zippy midcourter has featured heavily in the last three games for the Thunderbirds as did her idol, former Thunderbird captain, Natalie Von Bertouch.
Von Bertouch played 76 games for Australia, won two gold World Netball Championships as well as captained the Thunderbirds to two ANZ Championships in 2010 and 2013.
When speaking to Williams, it is clear that Von Bertouch was a big influence as a young woman as well as an aspiring netballer.
“I think Nat Von Bertouch was one I grew up idolising. I watched her play with the Thunderbirds and the Diamonds for a lot of years and she was the one I looked up to a lot,” Williams said.
“Having her involved as our wellbeing manager or wellbeing leader of the club has been awesome. She’s been a really good sounding board and one that is there for you as a friend and an athlete.
“She has a very good understanding of what goes on in this environment and how that goes. She’s obviously been great.”
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Williams on coach Obst
Another big influence on Williams is her current head coach at the Thunderbirds, Tania Obst. When she started at the club a few years ago it was evident that the club wanted to get back to bringing in and developing young South Australian talent.
Williams spoke about her relationship with Obst and the way in which she has helped her play at Suncorp Super Netball level.
“I think one thing when Tania came in, she wanted to get back to focusing on our SA (South Australian) talent and restoring that pathway,” she said.
“I was lucky enough when Tania was appointed as the head coach in her first year that I was carrying an injury so she brought me into the program and gave me access to that high-performance environment, the resources, and the expertise that that comes with that.
“This has allowed me to come back on board. Then having the exposure to that environment and her knowledge and expertise on the game and her smarts has really given me the opportunity and given me the chance to progress quite quickly under her guidance which I’m very grateful for.”
This faith shown by Obst has paid dividends when Williams took out her first MVP performance on the weekend against the Collingwood Magpies. Williams outplayed Magpies centre Molly Jovic who has been in sensational form and is one of the Magpies’ main contributors in the midcourt.
Starting in her second game for the Thunderbirds without starting centre options Maisie Nankivell and Hannah Petty, the 22-year-old shone all game. Williams had 13 assists, 23 feeds, four gains, three intercepts, and three deflections, demonstrating her ability to play defensively and offensively for the Thunderbirds.
Debuting in 2020
Williams spoke about the 2020 season, which for many Suncorp Super Netball players was a hard one. In and out of cities and constantly away from home is hard but being a young netballer in her debut season came about so quickly for the former training partner.
“I think 2020 for me, well probably for everyone, was unexpected really in how it all panned out,” she said.
“2020 was my first official year as a training partner so I felt like I’d just come into it and then obviously COVID became a thing and then everything happened so quickly. Then I kind of just ended up in the hub up in Queensland which I was very lucky to be involved with.
“Looking back on it now, it’s kind of weird that even happened and at the time I was just really grateful and happy to be there and probably didn’t grasp the full enormity of what was happening at the time.
“To [be given] the opportunity to get on the court and have some minutes. I guess that really threw me in the deep end at some stages and allowed me to have those experiences and really push forward my development and allowed me to grow from there.”
She believes that it kick-started her career and helped her to understand and focus on making it at Suncorp Super Netball level.
How to improve
As a club, the Thunderbirds are building in experience and stature in the same way as Williams.
Her role within the team as a young player is to push the starting team and to play more consistent netball. She explains that grinding away at training and on game day is part of her role in the overall process to be the best teammate that she can be.
“We all play netball to want to be on the court as much as possible and so my job at the moment is to take my opportunities when I get them and play my role when needed,” Williams said.
“We have to do what’s best for the team and play your role within that and my job at the moment is to push everyone else around me to want to improve so I’ll be there and take my opportunities when I can.”
The season as a whole has been very mixed from her side with two wins coming in a row against the Magpies and Firebirds to arrest the five-game losing streak they had after winning the first few games of the season.
Williams explains what they need to continue to work on to continue to improve as a side and build towards the end of the Suncorp Super Netball season.
“I think we’ve shown that when we put our best performance out there we can match it and do really well and be really successful,” she said.
“We started well, which was good but then probably haven’t found that form that we would have liked to since then.
“I think our defensive game has been exceptional and the amount of ball that we have been able to win back all over the court has been awesome, but we’re not capitalising on those turnovers as much as we would have liked.
“[Working on] our attacking game and structures and game plan is probably the focus at the moment, we need to be able to improve on this to turn this around and turn those losses into wins that we desperately want.”
A memorable debut from Lucy Austin
Round 6 included a memorable debut for the Adelaide Thunderbirds with young shooting sensation Lucy Austin starting as goal shooter as Lenize Potgieter was out due to injury.
Coming through the ranks together, albeit a few years in age between the two, Williams is proud of the signs that Austin showed in the loss to the Melbourne Vixens. Austin was impressive in this game, shooting 18 goals from 21 shots with one super shot from three attempts as well as four feeds, four assists, and a deflection.
“Lucy is a little bit younger than me but we’ve done some state stuff and come through the pathway together, been involved with SASI (South Australian Sports Institute). So we’ve had a lot of time on the court together,” Williams said.
“I’ve been really lucky to have trained alongside her, she’s worked really hard this year and the last couple of years but this year in particular.
“She’s put a lot of time and effort in and you can see that progression on the court too and we are really happy with how she debuted.
“She played really well and played her role really well and is taking her opportunities when she gets them. She’s put a lot of work in and she will be rewarded for it very soon hopefully.”
The Thunderbirds are hoping she continues the form she showed in her second full game last week against the Magpies. This was truly a showcase of what she could do, shooting and making 49 shots from 53 attempts with two assists, four rebounds, and five feeds.
One thing that has been unique within the league in the last few seasons has been the condensed fixturing, which included mid-week games in between weekend matches. With three games within a week, Williams explains the emphasis on recovery and learning and moving on from the wins and losses just as quickly.
“It’s a bit different, compared to what the normal structure and routine of the week look like,” she said.
“It’s a quicker turnaround, which puts the emphasis on your rest and recovery and you don’t have as much time to dwell on what happened or review that too much so you review what’s happened and then it’s pretty quickly moving on to next game.
“Training looks a little bit different, not as heavy and it’s doing whatever you can physically and mentally to prepare for the next one.”
The Pink Army
With the return of more home games for the teams outside of Queensland this season, the Adelaide Thunderbirds have enjoyed packing out Netball SA Stadium with the Pink Army. Williams talks about the support from the home crowd and why it is important to the Thunderbirds.
“We love the Pink Army and the support that they give us. Playing in that stadium, in front of all of them is incredible and it’s really loud and it’s nice to have that support behind us,” she said.
“They play a massive part in that and there is nothing better than playing at home in front of friends and family which you often don’t get when you go away, so we love that support and it means a lot to us all.”
Tayla Williams and the Adelaide Thunderbirds take on GIANTS Netball at Ken Rosewall Arena in First Nations Round this weekend. Both teams will need to win to stay in the race for the finals.
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