After being away from netball for so long, it would have been easy to dismiss Blue Diamonds on the court.
The rookie club featured 13 players – mostly over 30 – who were out of touch with the sport for more than five years. But experience would serve them well, carrying Blue Diamonds to the Division Three championship in the 2014 Appleby Netball League.
Kristen Watler-Miller, 30, played a key role in organizing the team and contributed to the success as the starting center. The George Town resident said the squad is about rekindling a sporting passion.
“I’ve played straight from primary school at age seven,” Watler-Miller said. “I used to play with All Stars in the league up until six years ago when I had my first child. I took a break after that but missed playing. I just was not ready to play at such a competitive level again. I work for an asset management firm, and I mentioned it to some co-workers and most of them were excited to play – though most had never played before.
“We didn’t have enough for a team, so I reached out to Catherine Ebanks, Danette McLaughlin, Amy Bothwell, Linda McField and Jessica Maxwell. We wanted ladies who knew how to play well and also had good attitudes and would make the league fun. We decided on Blue Diamonds [as a club name] because blue is a favorite color amongst us and our sponsor and we felt bright like diamonds.”
Blue Diamonds wrapped up its season this month at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex netball courts by beating Claire Hughes and Jacques Scott Social. Amber Myrie and the University College of the Cayman Islands won the division’s consolation final over Gemma Butterfield and Ernst and Young Hot Shots. Spirits was the fifth team in the group.
Watler-Miller said her teammates defied the odds in spite of their time away from the sport.
“I would like to mention the players who I am extremely proud of. I’m one of those who haven’t played in 5-15 years or longer, along with Catherine, Linda, Amy, Danette, Jessica, Laura Watler and Cindy Bush. Those who have never played before are Lastenia Tibbetts, Diana Falconer, Anna Clarke, Irina Scrivens and Manisha Gupta. We started this as a fun way to mingle and get some exercise in. Now it’s turned more competitive and we want to advance next season.”
Blue Diamonds are not the only club that celebrated an unexpected triumph after a long hiatus. Nicola Pringle and Roma United Sports Club had been away from the court for nearly two years before regrouping this season to win the national championship, dethroning two-time reigning champions and storied nemesis Conyers All Stars.
Roma club president Robert Sairsingh said his squad’s success, along with that of Blue Diamonds, speaks well of the sport’s current state.
“This season, we’ve seen tremendous improvement in the overall standard of the game,” Sairsingh said. “With two other divisions it causes there to be more balance. There was a record number of teams in the Plate division, for example, and we no longer see a disparity in the scores. In division one, it is becoming way more competitive than ever before. The level of the sport has improved and increased. Many of the Under-21 players who were in Scotland are spread out over the teams and added competitive flair when they competed.
“We’ve seen veterans like Pauline Bodden and Nicola Williams of All Stars continue to perform, Rising Stars has stepped up, and there is just so much greater balance with the spreading out of the teams. I’m hoping … the league gets the support to continuously see a high level of netball. I feel we will see netball played at a higher level going forward.”
In all, there were 14 teams in the competition. Aside from Blue Diamonds and Roma, the league crowned a third champion as Karen Smith-James and Cayman National Bank All Stars claimed the Plate division for the second straight year, beating Patrice Stewart and Rising Stars B.
Kara Coe and Affinity Sapphires were the Plate consolation winners ahead of Benieca Thompson and Lights International, with Unity finishing in last place. Rising Stars A claimed third place in the top flight over Flames Strikers.
Ultimately, Watler-Miller said, while her club’s rookie success was good, the goal is to equal that feat in a higher group.
“Our team is a mix of players who have not played in 5-15 years – some not since high school and some who have never played a day in their life before. Given that fact and we were all playing just for the fun of it, I’m extremely proud of how we did. But after getting this first season under our belt, I have my eyes set on placing in the second division next season.
“I was happy how the league was organized and the fact that each team would volunteer some time to score and time-keep during the games.”