Strong Foundations in place
Team Bath Netball’s exciting young squad has shown plenty of promise, potential, flair and fight during a 2023 Super League season that has seen the club put strong foundations in place for future growth and development.
That is the view of Asha Francis, who has this week marked her one-year anniversary as Team Bath Head Coach and completed the first step on a long-term journey to establish a new player-led culture within the club and develop a dynamic style that both entertains and ultimately produces results.
“I’m really proud of how far we have come this season,” she said. “What I’m particularly pleased with is that we’re starting to see ourselves grow and develop into the team I would really like us to be.
“There have definitely been plenty of positives, things that perhaps aren’t tangible when you watch the matches or look from the outside. There has been a lot of personal growth on and off the court from everyone, including myself.
“We have learnt so much and it’s now about taking that momentum into 2024 and continuing our growth.”
Team Bath started the 2023 campaign with eight new or returning players in a squad that was the youngest in the Super League, with an average age of just 24, as well as a new-look coaching set-up as first-time Head Coach Francis was joined by assistant Chani Wopara and Performance Mentor Mark Bennett.
The group had a clear, defined target for the season – not to measure success simply by the win and loss column but to embed a new team and forge a new mindset, with their long-term development always the main priority.
All 15 members of the wider playing squad took to the court during the season, with teenagers Sophie Kelly, Phoebe Maslen and Jayda Pechova – the latter newly promoted to the Vitality Roses senior programme after an excellent campaign – all making the most of their significant court-time. More established players like captain Lily-May Catling, Wales international Betsy Creak and New Zealander Ali Wilshier have enjoyed their first campaigns as regular Super League starters too.
“It is so important for players to gain that experience,” said Francis. “If you look at a team like London Pulse, who topped the Super League table and reached their first Grand Final this year, they exposed their younger players to Super League over the past few seasons and are now seeing the benefits of committing to a long-term plan.
“Our squad is developing all the time and that is a really exciting prospect for the seasons to come.”
Francis is also thrilled by the support she and her players have received from the Team Bath fans during 2023, with a club-record 12,200 spectators packing into the Team Bath Arena to cheer on the developing squad.
“The support, and the roar they have created in the Arena, has been incredible,” she said. “This season has obviously been different to what people have been used to but I hope the fans have seen plenty of positive signs of what we are building towards.
“We know what we want to do and I think we know how to do it. It was never just about this season, there are all sorts of things we are trying to do on and off court, and I’m really grateful we’ve been trusted to do this. Of course it’s been tiring and at times stressful but it’s been fun and rewarding to see the progression in our young squad. Our performance at the Fast5 Netball All-Stars Championship last week at the Copper Box was an excellent example of our progress and making the final for the second consecutive year is a great way for this squad to finish the season. I was really proud to see each individual play with such energy and determination.
“I’m ready to go again next season, with a belief that we’re building something special here in Bath that puts player personal development at the heart of everything we do.”