On the eve of the 2019 Welsh Netball Summer Tests, attention will turn to a new generation of Welsh netballer as the Cymraesau set their sights on qualification for Birmingham 2022.
Among those hoping to step onto court for their first cap this July are two players who formed part of Tania Hoffman’s Celtic Dragons squad for the 2019 Vitality Netball Superleague. The first of these is Lydia Hitchings, 22, who studies textile and design and has experienced her fair share of ups and downs in her netball career thus far. She discovered netball in Year 7 of school and went on to represent Wales at U21 level when she first broke into that year’s Celtic Dragons squad. She was set for the 2017 World Youth Cup in Botswana when she sustained an ACL injury in training. Despite such a set-back so early in her career, Hitchings persevered and gained a place via very competitive Celtic Dragons trials for the 2019 squad. Named in the senior long squad, Hitchings has made up for lost time very quickly and will have high hopes of making her international senior debut.
Meanwhile, Lucy Howells, 24, was a real surprise package in Dragons’ latest season. She also found a place in the squad via the open trials and was thrust into the limelight against Team Bath live on television for the 2019 Super 10 fixture. Originally from St. Ishmael’s in Pembrokeshire, Howells first encountered netball with Haverfordwest’s Chaos Netball Club and following her graduation from Cardiff Metropolitan University, combined playing and coaching duties. Howells demonstrated tremendous versatility to transition into the wing-defence position and was an able deputy for Nia Jones in the 2019 Superleague. She will be looking to consolidate her remarkable progress this season by making her international debut.
A number of Wales’ foremost netball clubs are represented through this year’s group of Wales newbies. One of those clubs is Cowbridge, where several of the current squad, new and old, have plied their trade. Catrin Bowen is one such graduate of the Vale of Glamorgan club. Bowen has represented Wales at U17 level and following her graduation from Cardiff University works as a physiotherapist for the NHS. She has previously been selected in Wales long squads, but has now taken her opportunity to break into the final fifteen. Speed and anticipation are Bowen’s strengths and she will be looking to make an impression during July’s games.
Ystrad Mynach have also produced their fair share of talent over the years and 2019 sees the emergence of Brooke Collett from Nantyglo. Collett captained Swansea University’s before entering a career in finance. She began her netball career with Newbridge Netball Club and represented Wales U19 at Netball Europe in 2008. A step up to the senior squad has been a long time coming, but she has readily impressed Wales head coach, Julie Hoornweg who said: “Brooke’s a small but dynamic goal-defence/wing-defence who loves to time her leads to take exciting intercepts!”
The final debutante representing a Welsh club in the 2019 Summer Tests squad is Chantelle Walker Jones. Playing for Central Netball Club in Cardiff, Chantelle comes from Neath-Port Talbot and boasts an exceptional athletic background having represented Wales in a numerous age-grade athletics tournaments, specialising in sprint distances. She is also the only mother in the squad and comes from a strong netball family with her sister, Miquie, representing Wales at last years U21 Netball Europe tournament.
The last newcomer to the squad hails from over the border. Betsy Creak qualifies for Wales through her grandparents and has shown excellent “strategic smarts to both ends of court” according to head coach Hoornweg. In the latest season, Creak represented Bristol Romans in England’s Premier League 1 alongside a number of other Welsh qualified players. Creak is also a skilled basketball player and she works as a teacher in Bristol.
You can see all of Wales’ players in action this July by getting your ticket from welshnetball.ticketline.co.uk Tickets for each day’s match can be purchased up until 10am on the day of the game. Tickets are available on the door, but will cost slightly more.