Some 20 months ago, Roma United Sports Club were history in local netball.
Both of its teams fell short of lofty title expectations, with its top squad ending a two-year title reign to All Stars netball club. Roma members would go their separate ways, with many deciding to revive Storm netball club and Storm would have its championship dreams crushed by All Stars. Fast forward to this month and the journey has come full circle as Roma ended its comeback season in the 2014 Appleby Netball League with a 36-35 victory over Conyers All Stars at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex netball courts.
Roma club president Robert Sairsingh is one of the few to witness the stunning transformation of his side from national champions to disbanded to title winners once again. Sairsingh said last Saturday’s victory is the latest chapter in a captivating saga.
“We had a good thing going under the leadership of Stacey-Ann Dehaney, Nicola Pringle and Carrie Barnett-Carter,” Sairsingh said. “Along with Kay Copeland, they had a nucleus of players to organize, train and fundraise on their own. I was in the background to see them achieve success with their limited numbers. I was always confident they could do well in playing netball. I know the quality of players is such that we could win on any given day.
“The hiatus represented an effort to rejoin a Storm team they played with years ago. Key Storm players like Lavern Ebanks were back and the girls tried getting back Storm. They didn’t get the achievements with Storm they had hoped to garner so Storm broke up again and there was the departure of Sophia Foster and Lavern. Stacey wanted to regroup as Roma and most of the old players didn’t want to come back. We lost around five players who wanted to leave the game and we brought in new players.
“It was a great challenge, we had to regroup. Three new players – Keisha Solomon, Roxanne Walton and Joanne Ziegler – played well this season. While they tired in our losses during the regular season, they showed great resiliency and guts in the final. Stacy did well as center, she controlled the game. Kay, with her shooting skills, deserves special mention. We saw a classic performance from her, playing through pain. All of the girls played well and defied the odds.”
Roma went into the title game as underdogs. All Stars had beat them convincingly earlier in the season and looked every bit like the reigning two-time national champions. Historically, the sides have been major rivals with All Stars and members of Roma squaring off over the last five finals.
Like all epic championship matches, it was a tense affair. The lead changed hands several times throughout as Katherine Maw, Nicola Williams and Pauline Bodden kept the All Stars offense on point. The final result would be decided by turnovers, controversial calls and a determined Roma defense that would bend but not break.
Cayman Islands Netball Association first vice president Norma Ferryman saw the contest as a perfect finale.
“The last game between Roma and All Stars was exciting,” Ferryman said. “No one knew for sure which team would be the winner. Both teams played an excellent game. The spectators enjoyed the games and all the supporters came out for the last game. All eyes were on the court watching the games and everyone was tense and excited about the game. Netball was played at its best. The netballers’ skills and knowledge of the game were highly appreciated by all. I would like to congratulate both Conyers and Roma for such an exciting and enjoyable game.”
Making Roma’s victory even more special was the fact that the team played with no substitutes in the final and for most of the season, relying on seven players throughout. According to Barnett-Carter, the team also did not train, relying wholly on their experience and past chemistry to win.
Sairsingh said those aspects added to what was a rare triumph.
“It was quite tremendous. It was an amazing victory, bearing in mind that we had a skeleton team. We only had the seven players, who all had to play a full game, while All Stars had their full complement. It’s an amazing feat to last and prevail in the end. I knew it would be tough but they pulled out all the stops against so many odds.”
Aside from Roma, the league would crown a pair of champions. Karen Smith-James and Cayman National Bank All Stars would claim the Plate division for the second straight year, beating Patrice Stewart and Rising Stars B, 37-15. Amy Bothwell and Blue Diamonds would win Division Three in its rookie season, defeating Claire Hughes and Jacques Scott Social, 19-13.
Kristen Watler-Miller is one of the key members of Blue Diamonds and says her squad will be a steady force in the sport.
“As of now, we are enjoying the win,” Watler-Miller said. “We’ll take some time off and regroup before next season starts. But we are definitely planning to keep the team together for the upcoming seasons so look out for us!”
In all, there were 14 teams in the competition. Amber Myrie and the University College of the Cayman Islands won the Division Three consolation final over Gemma Butterfield and Ernst and Young Hot Shots, 26-24, with Spirits being the other team in the group. Kara Coe and Affinity Sapphires beat Benieca Thompson and Lights International, 28-21, in the Plate division consolation final with Unity finishing in last place. Rising Stars A claimed third place in the top flight over Flames Strikers.
Local netball will now shift its focus to international competition.
The netball association, which organized the Appleby league, is preparing to send a national women’s team to Calgary, Canada in August for the 2014 American Federation of Netball Associations qualifiers, which are ahead of the 2015 World Netball Championships in Australia. Local tryouts started in January and the association will soon pick 12 players to form the team and get into a regular training regimen, with an increase in activities after Easter.