Australian Diamonds and Sunshine Coast Lightning player Cara Koenen (Picture: Netball Australia, Design by Madeline Irwin)

A budding criminologist, Australian Diamonds and Sunshine Coast Lightning star shooter Cara Koenen not only excels on court, but in her study.

In her final semester of university, Koenen opened up to The Inner Sanctum about what it is like to juggle elite sport and study. She also explained the role the university and the club have in helping players get ready for life after netball.

“I think it’s something that we love about our game is the fact that we are able to have that work/life balance, and [being] able to kind of commit some time to doing something outside of netball,” Koenen told The Inner Sanctum.

“I’m actually in my last semester of study, finally, which is very exciting for me, but it obviously takes a lot and it does take quite a bit of understanding from both parties in terms of the university and the club so [our coach] Belinda [Reynolds] and our high performance team.

“They are always really supportive of trying to get us doing things outside of netball so that we are not always in netball mode at all times. Hopefully I will be able to get through my last semester of uni and we will see what happens after that but it’s really just one thing at a time, it’s obviously a very busy lifestyle but I feel like that’s why we love it.”

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Having been an inaugural player for the Sunshine Coast Lightning since 2016, Koenen has seen the club grow from humble beginnings and early success with two premierships in the first two seasons.

“I think it’s really cool, to have been part of that inaugural year where we didn’t really have an office or change room or literally anything, we were in empty rooms at the university,” she said.

“[It’s great] having been there to see the evolution of the club and seeing all of the staff that have come through and had a real buy-in into the group, and obviously we had that real success in [the] early years which has kind of petered off towards last year.

“I think it’s been a real honour and I think I’ve been very fortunate to be given the opportunity from ‘Noels’ (Noeline Taurua) but now being one of the senior players, it’s definitely very, very different. I still feel like that 20-year-old that has stepped into those empty rooms because of just how much depth that we have and how much learning I still have to do but it’s very interesting.”

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Looking back even further, Koenen was a late-comer to the game, picking it up at 12-years-old. Being a part of Australian Diamonds tours recently, she graciously reflected on her career so far.

“I didn’t get into netball until I was 12-[years-old] so typically a little bit later than I think a lot of other girls do,” Koenen explained.

“I think that as soon as I picked up the sport, I fell in love with the sport. I loved the team element and I think that Steph [Wood says] it best when she says that it’s one of the only sports that you need every single player to move the ball from one end of the court to the other, you can’t really go without anybody which I think is a really cool element of the game that we play.

“To be able to represent your country, I think is any athlete’s biggest aspiration and dream so to be able to have even been selected in one squad and one tour, I count my myself very, very lucky. I feel blessed, so I think everything after that is me trying to improve my own game and get better, I think if more tours come from that, then that’s a bonus.”

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