Fri | Aug 23, 2019

Orville Higgins | What went wrong for Sunshine Girls?

Published:Saturday | July 20, 2019 | 12:12 AM
Jamaica captain Jhaniele Fowler (centre) shoots ahead of Uganda’s Muhayimina Namuwaya (right) as Romelda Aiken covers during their Vitality Netball World Cup game at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool, England on Thursday.

In a previous article, I wrote that the sports gods surely must be punishing sports fans living in Jamaica this summer. How else could we explain the disappointing showings of the Reggae Boyz at the Concacaf Gold Cup, the Reggae Girlz at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and the Windies team at the ICC World Cup? That triumvirate of below-par showings had taken its toll on some of us, and we were hoping that the Sunshine Girls could perform well at the ongoing Vitality Netball World Cup to restore some kind of parity to our sports teams.

We were not being overly optimistic when we thought the Sunshine Girls could finally lift the trophy. The signs were all there. In Jhaniele Fowler and Romelda Aiken, we have the most awesome shooting combination in the game. Shamera Sterling is widely recognised as being among the best defensive players in the game. Many on the team are playing or have played professionally overseas. Coaches Marvette Anderson and Winston Nevers seemed to have found the formula to get the team to another level. For the first time ever, we were ranked No. 2 and were seemingly ready to ‘done di place’.

In spite of all that, the Sunshine Girls will now suffer the ignominy of playing off for fifth place. Not only have we not done as well as expected; in my opinion, we have performed worse than we have in living memory. Making the semi-finals of major tournaments has been a given for Jamaica’s senior netball team over the last couple of decades, and not being in the top four now is a difficult pill to swallow.

Rumours about Girls’ performance

Inevitably, the rumours have begun to swirl around as to what could have caused this. Losing to England is one thing; losing to South Africa is another. Despite competing gallantly in both games, the truth is, we never looked likely to dominate either match and lost by wider margins than we should have.

So what went wrong? Those close to the camp are already whispering that there was bickering among players. I have heard from those in the know that differences between players affected the chemistry of the team. Another argument making the rounds is that this group of players considered themselves prima donnas and were never following coaches’ instructions in crucial moments. Is any of this true? Did all the pre-tournament hype get to the team and make them underestimate their opponents while overrating themselves? Or are we merely finding excuses for a team that simply underperformed?

One feels that it will not be business as usual after the team comes home. Something will have to give. President of Netball Jamaica Dr Paula Daley-Morris has been in the press hinting that heads could roll. Was coaching our problem? Fowler seemed to imply that when she said the team lacked “structure”. To what degree did poor coaching affected the team?

This below-par showing must hurt Nevers more than most. We know how reluctant the powers that be were to get him involved in the coaching set-up. Despite his unmatched coaching credentials at the domestic level, Nevers was sidelined for years. His selection was met with huge public approval. Members of the old, stubborn netball hierarchy may well be smiling a wry smile now as if to say, “What was all the fuss about?” With this kind of result, is Nevers’ head on the chopping block along with Anderson’s? If not these two, then who? Do we go back to ex-national coaches such as Oberon Pitterson and Connie Francis, or do we make the radical step of looking overseas? Interesting times are ahead in local netball.