Sunshine Coast Lightning star Cara Koenen continues her rise in the netballing world after being selected for the Australian Diamonds 2023/24 squad.
After playing a pivotal role in the Commonwealth Games gold medal-winning team last year, she is continuing to strive for excellence ahead of the Netball World Cup in South Africa.
Cara Koenen spoke exclusively to The Inner Sanctum about the last year as part of the Diamonds team, the Commonwealth Games and how the games has prepared her for the Netball World Cup.
“[This last year or so] has been pretty hectic,” Koenen told The Inner Sanctum.
“I was first picked in the Diamonds squad right around the time of COVID, so I was part of the squad but I wasn’t really getting any opportunity to really to get out on court.
“It all happened really, really quickly, once everything opened back up and we were able to play internationally again, it felt like it was one thing after another, after another and I was obviously very lucky to be selected in quite a few teams.
She continued to explain what it meant to her to have the honour of representing Australia on the biggest stage.
“It’s always an amazing honour, like every phone call I get [in regards to national selection], my stomach is in knots,” she said.
“I’m always stressed out about selections because obviously we’ve got such amazing depth in Australia [and] it’s so competitive, but to be given the privilege of pulling on that dress and being part of the squad even is super, super exciting.
“With the calibre of athletes we’ve got at the moment I’m so lucky to be able to learn off some of the best netball players in the world.
“We are just really great mates off the court [and] we all get along really well so it’s an awesome group to be a part of and some really big moments to be a part of over the last twelve months, hopefully [I’ll be a part of] some more big moments coming up this year but we will wait and see.”
Coming into a highly successful set-up such as the Australian Diamonds, it was interesting to find out what Koenen thought about the culture of the group. She put stock in the vision that current head coach Stacey Marinkovich has put into place, since being installed in 2020.
“I think since Stacey’s come on board as coach she’s really she’s just done a lot of work on the culture and making sure we have a really clear game plan and a clear vision, not only of the brand of netball but the kind of athletes that we want to be both on and off the court,” Koenen explained.
“I think that when you give a group of competitive individuals that shared purpose and culture to live by, I think that we’ve been able to do [some] pretty amazing things with that.
“It’s been awesome [to be a part of], I think everyone has a massive belief in the group as well and a big buy-in which makes all of the difference I guess in terms of making sure we are living and breathing the culture every single day.”
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With the calibre of shooters in the Australian Diamonds team it’s no wonder that Koenen has grown exponentially in her few years in the squad. Learning off some of the best in the world in Gretel Bueta and Steph Wood, she described what being in the set-up has done for her game and mindset.
“I feel like I am constantly learning off the girls there. We’ve got such great depth and versatility in Australia, even if you look within the shooting circle we have got some incredible athletes and with all really, really different strengths,” she said.
“I think [that] has made us a real force to be reckoned with, coming up against different oppositions, we have a whole lot of things that we can go to in our kit bag if something doesn’t go our way on the day.
“Nothing is really a given in the landscape of Australian netball at the moment so I’m just looking to continue to keep learning from everybody and making sure that my personal game is improving.
“It’s great to have that combination with Steph (Wood) but when you step from club land back into Diamond land, you have to really be able to work on those combinations and connections so that we really don’t have any weak links amongst the group. [This] is always a challenge but it’s something that is really, really exciting because again we can really test a heap of different defences I think with the way that we are able to play the game at the moment.”
Being a part of her first Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year, Koenen detailed her perspective on how that experience will prepare her for the upcoming Netball World Cup in South Africa.
“Comm Games was obviously incredible, I loved that experience,” she said.
“That group that we had over there was amazing, but also the depth in the squad in terms of the preparation and getting us all across over to Birmingham and being able to win that gold was pretty incredible to be honest.
“The gold medal moment is something indescribable, it makes me emotional to just talk about it still at the moment too.
Played in Cape Town in January, the Quad Series that the Diamonds participated in was a great learning opportunity in a World Cup year. Facing England, New Zealand and South Africa, they won against the three of the top netballing nations to take out the series.
“Heading into the Quad Series, at the beginning of the year it is challenging because as you are stepping out of a club and pre-season and then into the Diamonds environment which is obviously very performance based.
“We really wanted to win that back-to-back Quad Series titles so yeah the focus was really on retaining that and then you get back and you kind of switch immediately back over to club land.
“To have the opportunity to travel over to Cape Town and do what essentially will be a dry run for later on in the year for the group that heads over to Worlds is a really good experience for us [and was] really good [for] information gathering.
“I think that the players and the organisation learnt a lot about how we could do things better and what things worked really, really well so I think it was a really great opportunity for us to also have a look at the opposition, in England, New Zealand, and South Africa, which are obviously some really big, competitive nations when we get to Worlds.”
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