Four years ago in Glasgow, a young Leeds student watched in awe of her friends and peers as they helped take England all the way to the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games netball tournament in Glasgow.
Today, that same woman is just days away from donning the red and white of Team England and attempting to help them go one better on the Gold Coast.
Natalie Haythornthwaite spent six years in Leeds, studying for a degree at the city’s main university and then for a Masters at Leeds Beckett. All the while she was supplementing that education with a burgeoning netball career that saw her play for Leeds Carnegie and then the Yorkshire Jets, before the latter had its Superleague status unexpectedly revoked.
Undeterred, Haythornthwaite battled on and her reward is the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition over the next few weeks in Australia.
“I’ve been working towards this for years,” says the 25-year-old from Lancashire, who now plays for Superleague side Wasps.
“I remember watching the girls in Glasgow and thinking how much I wanted to be a part of it.
It’s been a huge ambition of mine. To get here and be picked for the Commonwealth Games, especially given the amount of talent we’ve got in England, it means the absolute world.Natalie Haythornthwaite
“It’s been a huge ambition of mine. To get here and be picked for the Commonwealth Games, especially given the amount of talent we’ve got in England, it means the absolute world.”
England are one of 12 teams in the netball tournament, with their first game in Pool B against rivals Scotland on Thursday. The aim is to finish in the top two to qualify for the medal rounds.
“The girls just missed out on making the final four years ago so that’s the aim this time around –the final,” she added. “Once you make the qualification rounds, anything can happen.”
A successful campaign for England will only continue netball’s growth in the UK. The national team is a full-time operation now, while Superleague has a strong following courtesy of a television deal with Sky Sports. The only thing missing is a Yorkshire team.
“Yorkshire is the biggest region in the UK, there are so many girls wanting to play for Superleague team so hopefully in the future we’ll see a team back there,” says Haythornthwaite.
“I have so many happy memories of when I was playing for Leeds Carnegie and Yorkshire Jets.
“When I first started playing Superleague, you just had parents coming to watch whereas now we’re selling out arenas, we’re getting thousands coming to watch the games.
“The sport has grown massively over the last five years and it’ll be interesting to see how big it gets in the next five years.”