Alexander backs versatile Diamonds squad after selection ‘headache’

Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander believes the defending champions have named a versatile and unpredictable World Cup squad for what she expects will be a “bloody hard tournament” in Liverpool in July.

As revealed earlier this week, vice-captain Gabi Simpson, Kim Ravaillion and the retired Laura Geitz are missing from the 12 that lost last year’s Commonwealth Games final to England, replaced by uncapped Swift Sarah Klau and recently arrived midcourt duo Kelsey Browne and Jamie-Lee Price.

From left: World Cup Diamonds Liz Watson, April Brandley, Caitlin Thwaites, Jo Weston, and Kelsey Browne. Credit:Joe Armao

One, she says, with more of the “smarts” needed to combat not just the strong England team, and traditional rivals New Zealand, but also Jamaica and South Africa – all with multiple players gaining top-level experience in Suncorp Super Netball. Conversely, the weekly exposure means the Diamonds also know their opposition better.

“Even over the last 12 months I think we’ve provided some change-ups to our group, and we’ve just got that ability to be more unpredictable, particularly with our shooting line-ups, and this group of four we can mix it up quite a lot and really keep the opposition guessing,’’ Alexander said.

“I think our midcourt is extremely powerful, very accurate in their ability to feed those goalers, and someone like a Paige Hadley, who’s been in our system before and in our squad, to do what she’s done over the past – particuarly – three months, to get herself in the shape that she’s in, playing attack and defence as well as she is at the moment, it’s a credit to her.’’

Only Bassett, Thwaites and Hadley remain from the winning 2015 team in Sydney, but eighth-year coach Alexander pointed out that nine players had contested at least one Commonwealth Games.

“Four years is a long time ago, and if your program and your athletes don’t evolve in that time, then you’re not going to stay ahead of everybody else,’’ she said. “Everyone’s trying to catch up to us, so [we need to be] changing and developing.

“It is a concern from one point of view: that of course we’re going to have to prepare for that experience a lot more diligently, and we’ve done that, we’ve had a whole heap of work on our performance psychology to prepare for it.

"But I’m also confident that the players who were at Comm Games last year understand what tournament style is and that they’re ready for this challenge of World Cup.’’

Having resisted the temptation to include an extra centre-court player, given the risk of injury playing eight matches in 11 days, one of several close calls was for the final defensive spot between incumbent Emily Mannix and Klau, with the latter coming from, well, the clouds.

“What we couldn’t ignore was the game style that Sarah was bringing us, particularly the change-ups from playing on that post shooter, and then also the moving shooter, and doing that within games,’’ Alexander said.

“And certainly her performance at squad camp was excellent. So we’re really thrilled for Sarah, we’re obviously gutted for Em, as well, but Emily is still very much a part of our very strong squad that we have.’’

A key topic/protest on social media was the non-selection of Magpie Ash Brazill, who was not in the wider squad of 19, and while Alexander said there had been “more improvement from Ash” after feedback was given last year, her competition was also outstanding in a talented midcourt group.

Training partners will be named in about 10 days, once the emotions have settled, and Watson admitted there had been mixed emotions at the Vixens, with three selections, including Thwaites and Jo Weston, but Mannix, Kate Moloney and Tegan Philip missing out.

“It’s been a really big week,’’ Watson said. “Found out the team on Monday and then Lisa told me yesterday about the vice-captaincy. So it’s a real honour. To represent you country at any stage is amazing, but to say you’re going to a World Cup to do it is just really special.’’

Squad: Caitlin Bassett (Giants), April Brandley (Magpies), Kelsey Browne (Magpies), Courtney Bruce (Fever), Paige Hadley (Swifts), Sarah Klau (Swifts), Caitlin Thwaites (Vixens), Gretel Tippett (Firebirds), Jamie-Lee Price (Giants), Liz Watson (Vixens), Jo Weston (Vixens), Steph Wood (Lightning).

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