Ian Hanson catches up with the Gold Coast 2018 Games roommates and now Australian Netball Diamonds team leaders, to find out how this netball duo are committed to ensuring the Diamonds are Greater Together.
Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons started it with their smash hit in the 1960s and the Dirty Dancing movie revived it in the ‘80s with “Big Girls Don’t Cry”…. well yes they do!
When Australian netballer Steph Wood received the phone call informing her that she had been appointed as vice-captain of the Diamonds she cried, in fact she said she cried instantly.
That’s what it meant to this passionate 30-year-old Queenslander, born in Townsville and who played her way through the State junior netball ranks at Pine River in Brisbane to become one of Queensland and Australian netball’s finest.
And if Steph and Diamonds captain Liz Watson – Commonwealth Games roommates on the Gold Coast in 2018 – get their way, then this year’s Games in Birmingham will be another chart topper.
Their goal of course is to swap the tears of anguish suffered after their agonising one goal loss to England four years ago to tears of joy.
Watson and Wood are this month’s ‘Greater Together’ feature and the pair have their sights set on turning their 2018 Commonwealth Games silver on the Gold Coast into Birmingham gold.
Steph admitted she didn’t realise just how much being named vice-captain meant to her until she took the phone call, bursting into tears.
“I was very surprised, first of all, to even get a phone call, to say your peers have voted you in as one of the candidates to sit for an interview,” Wood recalled when Commonwealth Games Australia chatted to the pair.
“I went into the interview going ‘even if nothing comes of this, it was a very cool opportunity to experience that.’
“And then when I got the phone call, saying I was vice-captain, that’s probably when it sunk in how much I actually wanted it.
“And just how much I want to make this Diamonds team successful and to leave the team in a better spot than when you came in.
“I just want to do everything possible to make sure that this team and this squad and this program is as successful as it can be until I am not the vice-captain anymore.”
Diamonds captain Liz Watson admitted the one thing that stands out to her the most, is the fact that the pair were nominated to leadership positions based on their peers.
“They’re the ones who voted us in and the ones who put our names forward,” Watson said.
“I think I hold that very seriously and take that responsibility on because you want your peers to feel like they want you in those positions.
“You want to do this together. That’s the most special thing. And yes, we had a really great interview process with (Diamonds coach) Stacey Marinkovich, CEO Kelly Ryan and Liz Ellis, who was obviously a former captain herself.
“So there’s lots of experience and talent there and to go through that process knowing that it came from the team gives us a lot of confidence and belief in our decisions and how we want to drive this program forward.”
The Watson and Wood leadership team were anointed into the Diamonds team in 2016, Watson as Diamond #168 and Wood as Diamond #170, careers that almost started together.
“It feels like we have been on this journey together in some ways,” Watson said.
“We’ve been there for each other from the start. And now to share this [leadership] role with Steph is pretty special.
“We’ve definitely had hard moments, we have been roomies, we have had major wins, we have had very close losses, those sorts of experiences all with Steph.
“So I think that when we got these roles together and I found out that Steph was vice-captain, it was almost like, ‘Oh my god, this is going to be amazing’.
“I feel like we get along really well. We know what it means to be a Diamond… we’ve done it all and been there together. Which has been really cool.”
Although Wood wasn’t actually in the team when Watson debuted against England in London, she was still there to experience the moment and celebrate Watson’s achievement and appreciated Watson being there for her moment and their growing relationship together.
“Liz’s parents were there. So that was really cool. To be part of that [for her],” said Wood.
“Then Liz was there when I made my debut, later on in 2016.
“So to say we’ve been on this journey between, like forever… we were made roomies at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 because we had the same sleep schedule (laughing).
“But yeah, and we have experienced those highs and the lows and I think that’s helped us in our leadership roles.
“We’ve been quite open in saying we don’t have the gold from the World Cup or the Commonwealth Games, and that definitely spurs on this squad we have ready for the Commonwealth Games.”
As agonising as it is Watson recalled just how close the gold medal match was four years ago on the Gold Coast.
“That game was so close, I mean one goal in the end… I think we are getting better at being comfortable when it is uncomfortable,” said Watson.
“And that match definitely felt uncomfortable for a lot of the time.
“When you’re going goal for goal, and we’ve got momentum and the crowd’s going nuts and our bench is going crazy, I think now I feel a lot more in control and can really process those moments when I am out there on court and not necessarily be caught up in the hype of what is the gold medal match.
“I think we experienced that in the fourth quarter against England recently [at the Quad Series] where we were tied for three quarters, and then we came out and really thrived in that last quarter.
“So there’s definitely lots of learnings from that. But I think I love that we’re not shy about talking about it and Stacy’s been amazing in saying that’s our goal, we want to get the gold medal, let’s talk about it. We know it’s there.”
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And Steph knows that she and her fellow Diamonds will follow captain Liz into the trenches and the pair actually share similar leadership styles.
“Liz leads by example, massively. She knows what to say and when to say it and she knows when to hold back,” said Wood.
“And we’ve worked with that together. And I think we’re actually like a yin and yang at times which is great.
“I think the biggest thing is, people want to follow what Liz does and that makes a great leader.
“It doesn’t have to be with words; sometimes it is just what she does on the netball court, but she knows what to say and when to say it.
“People follow her, which is actually really cool. It is really great.”
And Watson on Wood?
“Steph is the brains in this leadership team, she’s the brains, she is the one who can make the plays out there on court, she is very smart,” said Watson.
“And even though she doesn’t say a lot (either)… when she does, everyone’s heads turn, and everyone listens.
“And she’s not scared of saying what needs to be said and actually pulling people up and driving this team.”
If Watson and Wood get their way and leave Birmingham with that gold medal around their necks then you can bet there will be tears together… instantly.