Matilda Garrett

The Adelaide Thunderbirds' Matilda Garrett had a strong season at goal defence. (Image: Adelaide Thunderbirds/Instagram)

After a stand-out season at goal defence for the Adelaide Thunderbirds, Matilda Garrett reflects on her new opportunities on and off the court in 2021.

In late 2020, Matilda Garrett packed her bags and headed across the border for a new adventure at the Adelaide Thunderbirds. 

Garrett had spent three seasons at the Collingwood Magpies, after an impressive 2017 season in the Tasmania Magpies team for the Australian National League.

In the black and white stripes, Garrett struggled to get consistent court time, as the likes of April Brandley and then Jodi-Ann Ward took hold of the goal defence bib.  

The Magpies announced she would not be offered a contract for the 2021 season and then came a call from the Tania Obst and the Thunderbirds. 

The season had its challenges – the team started with five losses – but gradually things improved and there was more consistency and positivity about the Thunderbirds.

Under SA Health self-quarantine restrictions after returning from the hub in Queensland, Garrett spoke to The Inner Sanctum and reflected on her first season at Adelaide. 

“I’m very, very proud of our effort against the Swifts and I thought throughout the whole entire season our team really built,” she said.

“We did have some good success, we just need to make sure that we are more consistent to be winning more games.

“I do believe that if we keep this core group of girls together, that in the future we will be successful.”

A fresh start in a new state

Playing netball and coming through the Victorian pathway as a teenager, moving interstate and away from family was a new challenge for Garrett. 

She was up for it and, as is her friendly nature, she quickly built relationships which would support her through the tough times.

“I’ve loved every single minute of it; from the moment I walked into the club everyone’s made me feel super, super welcomed and all the girls have introduced me to their friends on the outside of netball as well,” she said.

The “big difference” from this year to last is the amount of court time Garrett has had, an opportunity which she has relished.

“Obviously, you train to play and it’s been so great this year that I’ve had the opportunity to get out there and play.”

Matilda Garrett (GD) receives the ball ahead of Gabby Sinclair (GA) against the Collingwood Magpies in Round 3. (Photo: Adelaide Thunderbirds/Twitter)

She is thriving in the new environment and growing her game every time she steps out on court. Garrett sees it simply, it’s really “just nice to play against the best.”

“The more you play, I feel like the more confident you get and I feel like that really helps,” she said.

“I feel like my team and my coaches believed in me, so I think I definitely improved this year by just being able to be on the court.”

Not only has the move been good for Garrett’s netball, but she’s seen a lot of growth in herself as she has been pushed out of her Victorian comfort zone. 

“I grew a lot as a person off the court, from moving interstate and having to find my feet in a state I only really knew two or three people in.”

Even with the move and settling into a new place, she has continued her university studies in Exercise Sport Science at Uni SA and is really proud of herself for that. 

Garrett’s favourite match for the season, the Round 7 win over the NSW Swifts at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre, reminded her why she loves the game.  

“The crowd was loud, the game was great and I just feel like it was the game I remember playing and thinking ‘wow, this is why I play netball’.”

New combinations

A spot opened up in the Thunderbirds’ defence after the club decided not to offer Kate Shimmin a new contract and Layla Guscoth remained in England working in the pandemic.

Garrett came into the club and took ownership of the goal defence position, working with Jamaican Shamera Sterling in the goal circle, as well as Shadine van der Merwe and Latanya Wilson who shared the wing defence position. 

It took a couple of weeks to settle the defensive end, but the pair of Sterling and Garrett quickly became the strongest part of the Thunderbirds line-up.

“With Shammy, she is just a freak of nature, she is so talented,” Garrett said.

“It’s great having her at the back, cause if you accidentally lose your player or something like that she comes out with a speccy intercept and you’re like ‘oh, thank goodness she is there.’

“But, I feel like as a unit we all developed our games together throughout the season, and they’re all so lovely off the court as well.”

Garrett started at goal defence in all 14 games this season, something she had not previously had the opportunity to do so regularly.

The new defensive quartet became a real strength of the Thunderbirds as they learned more about how each other played and were able to predict each other better.

“The fact that we got along so well off the court, I feel like that started to translate onto the court and we all have very different playing styles and strengths,” she said.

“As the season went on, I feel like we started to complement each other a bit more and were just able to read who was going to go for what and who was then going to back up the other player.”

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National development opportunities

Garrett has again been rewarded with a spot in the Australian Development Squad, an opportunity she is humbled by. 

Due to the regular border closures of the last 18 months, it has been nearly two years since the development squad has held a camp and trained together. 

Garrett hopes that this year a training camp can be held somewhere, ideally alongside the Diamonds camp, so she can “pick up lots of little things and work in new combinations” to improve her game.

“The squad has some very talented athletes in it and a few of them I have played with before, so that’ll be nice to see them,” she said.

“I’m also really keen to work with, and be coached by, Julie Fitzgerald. 

“I’ve met her a couple of times, but have obviously never been coached by her.

“Her Giants side are doing quite well, so I’m keen to hear about her perspectives and hopefully get a few tips and things like that from her.”

Building relationships on and off the court

For Thunderbirds fans, the insights on social media of team-bonding such as an international cooking day and Queensland hub barbecues have been a positive sight to see amid a season of mixed results.

Garrett confirms strengthening relationships has been a key focus for her side this year, and they’ve created strong foundations so when there are conversations to be had they are coming from a good place. 

“I think building a relationship off court makes it easier to have genuine conversations with people when it does get tough.

“It is sometimes really hard to give or receive feedback, but when you do have that relationship and friendship with someone, then you just know it’s either coming from a really nice place and they’re just trying to help you improve your game or vice-versa. 

“It helps with the enjoyment as well, if you like who you are playing with it’s a lot more fun and better out on the court.”

Sharing her knowledge with junior netballers

Alongside her netball and university studies, Garrett also found work as a netball coach and became the Thunderbirds ambassador for the South Australian Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy. 

Giving her knowledge and time to juniors is something Garrett has always done, but it was another way of keeping busy and meeting new people this year. 

“I really enjoy coaching and I feel like, once again, it’s helped with my transition across to Adelaide because you do then meet lots of new people, even if it’s just the athletes that you are coaching,” she said.

“I would then see some of them at my games that was then really nice, cause they knew me too. They were cheering, which was nice to see them in the crowd.”

Elizabeth Clark, Head of Girls Sport at Pembroke, spoke glowingly of Garrett and her contributions this year.  

“The students loved hearing about her journey and asking questions to help them develop as a player,” Clark said.

“Her friendly nature and welcoming approach made it really easy for the students to connect with her.”

After a strong season in pink, fans and junior South Australian netballers will be hoping Garrett is one of the first to sign on for 2022, so she can continue to support the pathways and build her career in Adelaide.

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