As a training partner for the Queensland Firebirds in 2021, Reilley Batcheldor has announced herself in 2022 in her first full year at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

After being a training partner for the Queensland Firebirds in 2021, young shooting sensation Reilley Batcheldor has announced herself in 2022 as one of Australia’s next big netballers to watch in her first full year at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Batcheldor plays goal shooter and goal-attack behind one of the best-attacking pairs in the country, Steph Wood and Cara Koenen. Wood and Koenen are both Australian Diamonds that have been selected in Netball Australia’s squad for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.

When speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum, she sheds light on the experience of having two Diamonds showing her the ropes and her ultimate dream of joining them one day.

“[Playing for the] Diamonds would be the ultimate goal one day,” Batcheldor said.

“I think for now it’s just to play my role well in this team and take as much in as I can and then I can be up for selection with that.”

As a young star in the making, Batcheldor has been the focus of keen netball fans this season. When talking to her, it was apparent that she hasn’t let the pressure of being a rising star get in her head.

“I think it’s going to always come back to my role within the team and I’ve got two awesome shooters in front of me in Cara and Steph,” she said.

“There is nothing to lose when I step out on court it’s just doing my job and they are there to back me up as well which is pretty cool.”

There is no better example for Batcheldor than Steph Wood. The Lightning captain was the Lightning Player of the Year last season and continues to drive the standards for her team.

Wood joined the Lightning in 2017 and was one of the first signings for the new franchise. She also was a part of the Sunshine Coast team that won the 2017 and 2018 Suncorp Super Netball titles.

“Steph is a great leader, I haven’t been there for a few years but I’ve heard a lot of the girls say even when she wasn’t captain she did show those leadership qualities,” Batcheldor said.

“She just knows the right time to call time-outs and bring everyone in, bring us together and get us back out on the court. It’s been awesome having her as a leader.”

“Steph is one of the smartest netball players in the league and the world.

“To have her brains if I’m back at goal shooter, she’s working the ball in front of me and just knows exactly what to do in the right moments. She’s good at moving the ball and creating plays.”

Steph Wood rejoins the Sunshine Coast Lightning for 2022. (Photo: Sunshine Coast Lightning)

Predominantly playing in goal shooter, Cara Koenen is a relatively new Diamond, inducted in January 2022. Learning under the great Australian shooter Caitlin Bassett, she is now teaching Batcheldor in the same way.

“When I’m playing with Cara, she’s just so athletic and she can rip any ball in,” Batcheldor said.

“She’s worked so hard to build her strength and you can pop any defender up against her and she can rip balls in and it’s awesome.”

Cara Koenen has signed on with the Sunshine Coast Lightning until the end of 2023.
Cara Koenen has signed on with the Sunshine Coast Lightning until the end of 2023. (Image: Sunshine Coast Lightning/Twitter)

When asking about her role models at the club, Batcheldor quickly named both Koenen and Wood but also Australian/English veteran Kate Walsh was another that has influenced her.

Playing 77 games for the Lightning, the Thunderbirds and the Firebirds, Walsh has been a calming influence outside the court for Batcheldor.

“Cara and Steph have been great role models for me but another one would be ‘Shimmo’, Kate Walsh,” Batcheldor said.

“She kind of took me in when I joined and we call her my second mum so she loves that and even though there’s like a ten-year age gap between us.

“I came up against Shimmo last year once in a preseason match with the Firebirds and Lightning and I remember she just brought the mongrel out on the court. You want Shimmo on your team not up against you.

“I think having her in my team at the Lightning, it’s pretty cool because at training she gives it to you and prepares all of us for games.”

Kate Walsh will remain at the Lightning for season 2022. (Photo: Sunshine Coast Lightning)

When asking Batcheldor about the team, she’s very happy with her choice to head to the Lightning. She said the club has a great feeling around it and it’s a big family.

“We have got a great culture here and dynamic, we’ve got a lot of uniqueness around different age brackets,” she said.

“We’ve got KD (Kadie-Ann Dehaney) from Jamaica who brings her own flavour and I think we’ve cemented a real big family kind of environment and it’s been great.

“You wouldn’t even be able to tell that Shezi’s (Laura Scherian) twelve years older than me or anything like that which is pretty cool and they are all like my mothers or big sisters.”

She also credits head coach Kylee Byrne with helping her to find her way at the club and in the Australian Under 21 team.

“Kylee is awesome, I had her for a bit with the under 21 Aussie squad even though we didn’t go away for anything with COVID because that was cancelled,” Batcheldor said.

“She’s just been awesome and welcoming and I’ve known her for a bit through the Queensland ranks but I’ve never actually been coached by her before so she kind of just took me in and has helped me out along the way which is good.”

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In her first proper year in Suncorp Super Netball, Batcheldor has been shooting at 52 per cent which has made her one of the best young shooters to watch. She has sunk 33 super shots this season so far as the Lightning’s super shot specialist.

After suffering an ACL injury the year before her stint as a training partner, the last thing she expected was a call for a full squad contract. She said the welcome she got when joining the Lightning shows the nurturing environment that the Lightning has provided.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it when I got the call from the Lightning to join the team,” Batcheldor said.

“I wasn’t expecting it from being a training partner but it was pretty cool getting the call-up and just go up the Bruce Highway move from the Gold Coast to the Sunny Coast. It just gave me heaps of confidence and belief in myself and my playing abilities.

“I just rehabbed my ACL that year and I hadn’t played much netball and finished my first proper season without injury.

“It was so insane, the girls were all amazing to me and I had a little experience with being a training partner the year before but everyone was so welcoming and I feel like I fit in with everyone.

“I think [the ACL injury] has just given me a lot of life skills and resilience and that determination and power to come back. Not a lot of people can do it, come back and play at that high level so I was pretty lucky.

“I’ve got a good mindset for it and I’d say I came back from it physically and mentally stronger. If anyone else does it, I think it’s a great learning curve and you get a lot out of it, although it sucks.”

Being such a young player in the Australian netball pathway, it was interesting to ask her about her road to playing netball. For Batcheldor, an obligation to play sport at school turned into a love for the game.

“I started playing when I was 11, we had to choose a sport for our intra-school sport and my mum played growing up a bit so she was like ‘Oh maybe you should just play netball and give it a go’,” Batcheldor said.

“I was always that tall kid so I put that down and started playing in year four at school which was pretty cool.

“I started off as a goalkeeper because no one put their hand up to trial for those defensive positions when I was younger.

“I always liked watching Erin Bell’s shooting technique and Nat Medhurst but I started off as a defender so that was quite interesting.

“I did the Queensland School Girls Team as a goalkeeper and deep down I always liked shooting and there was a bit of glory behind that.

“[When it came to] my long-range shots, on the weekend my dad used to take me down to the courts and we’d pop some shots up.

“At the end of each shooting session, we’d have some fun and try shooting these long shots from outside of the circle sometimes and think that just gave me a bit more confidence when the pressure came on to shoot some longer goals during a game.”

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