Raw and Real: Kaylia’s 2020 Rollercoaster Netball Journey

Kaylia Stanton is a Professional Netballer in the Suncorp Super Netball League. 2020 saw all of the teams move into hubs in Queensland to see the season go ahead. Kaylia takes us through what it was like living away from her home in Perth for three months and the unexpected ending to her year.

For me, life as a professional athlete is a dream job! This career offers more than your typical 9-5 job, and for me playing netball is not only just my employment, it’s my passion and my family. 

It might be a tired phrase, but 2020 has been such a different year. COVID-19 and the lockdowns have taken their toll and sports in general have had to adapt. However, as many others have found themselves this year, we too have had to ‘pivot’. A word I associate unanimously with 2020.

Given the unusual circumstances that surrounded the season, the game and our lives as athletes had to change in order to give our sport the oxygen it desperately needed for us to play at the top level this year.

Many have made greater sacrifices than us, however I’d like to hope that we’ve played our part in bringing a little diversion to those who like to watch their favourite netball team on television.

Hub Life

Just like Kiera Austin, I also found myself filled with more emotions than usual. The experience was both weird and wonderful – all wrapped into one – a rollercoaster ride if you will. I loved the freedom of having our own one-bedroom apartments, but also the comfort of knocking on a teammates door and hanging out for a few minutes or hours. It reminded me of my AIS days where we lived on site in Canberra for six months together.

The 2020 Suncorp Super Netball (SSN) season was structured with two games a week.  So, like a song on loop, we ate, slept, trained and repeated that mantra for nearly 3 months until we reached our final goal.

As we edged closer to the end of the season, the opportunity to play finals looked more and more likely.  Yet, the uncertainty of not knowing when we were going home, was always in the back of our minds. It was unsettling and meant we were always unsure as to when our return date would be.  Or even, whether COVID-19 would ruin all our plans to return to our love ones in the middle or end of the season.

However, we adapted, and went with the flow, as we had done all season.

The Aftermath

Just two points separated both teams in the Grand Final in the dying minutes of the game.  Just two points and it could have been Fever, not Vixens, who won the game. It was heart breaking, especially after all of the highs and lows we’d experienced across the course of the season. 

Being a part of a team that finished sixth the year before, 2020 provided us with a huge turn around, both in team form and success.  Unlike a build-up to the final game of the season in your home state, we still felt that playing in Brisbane, against a very good Melbourne team, we could do it and Win! 

We were quite understandably devastated not to win and to miss out by such a small margin was emotionally draining. 

Heartbreak Following our Return Home

We returned home to Perth after three months away in Queensland and like many other people, we had to quarantine for 2 weeks upon our arrival back into Perth.

After being away from family, friends and my dog Poppy for such a long time, it was so nice to be able to finally see them in person again. There’s only so many Zoom catch ups and phone calls one can do before the space and distance from friends and family comes into sharp focus. Being there, getting a hug and a smile made the senses alive again.

I was exhausted and emotionally drained following a busy build up to the season. The pre-season (and as others will attest) was the longest pre-season in history, alongside a rollercoaster ride whilst we were away and then the devasting loss in the grand final.

On top of all this, towards the end of the first week in quarantine, I was faced with the tough position many athletes face – delisting. To be a part of one club for seven seasons only to find you are no longer needed as player is heart breaking.

I had become so invested and ingrained in West Coast Fever, the brand, the player and the person I’d become – it was a huge part of my identity. So, to go from that to nothing was a huge shift in mindset. It takes your breath away and requires a lot of adjusting. 

I am proud of my achievements while at West Coast Fever. 

  • Making the inaugural grand final with WCF in 2018 and then two years later making the grand final in 2020
  • Playing for Australia in underage competitions, notably the World Youth Cup over in Glasgow 2016
  • Playing for Australian in Fast 5, 2017 and 2018
  • Debuting in 2016 against the Adelaide Thunderbirds
  • Adapted to play two positions

This only touches the surface to other achievements whilst being a part of West Coast Fever

More to Life than just Netball

It’s taken me nine years of part-time scientific study in Nutrition and Health Promotion, but at last I am done!

While many players had down time during our Hub, I continued with my university studies, exams and assignments, sometimes clashing with training and games.  It was a juggle, but it was all worth it!

The Aftermath

Although I did have the slim chance of continuing my netballing dream with another club, the chances of this were slipping away.

However, I was then able to secure an interview with the Vixens, a club I have always admired and looked up to.

In netball from a young age and growing up through the WA pathway, it’s always been known that Victoria is the state to beat, they are hardworking and tenacious in their approach to the game. You always know they will be in the top three teams, if not the grand final – year in, year out.

They were of course the reining premiers of Suncorp Super Netball for 2020, given they had just beaten Fever in the grand finale. I thought, if by some miracle I was selected, there was definitely some irony in moving to the team that had just beat Fever.

The 180 Degree Flip

So, it turns out I might be a cat with nine lives.

The following Friday, a week after I had the interview with Vixens, I was offered a contract with them, much to my shock and amazement.

I had gone from no contract, feeling deeply saddened and lost for a week, clinging onto the hope and possibility of a contract with another SSN club, to all of a sudden being offered a contract with arguably the best club in the country.

It was hard to believe that this was real, however, given everything 2020 has thrown at me and the rest of the world, it’s only fitting that after great sadness and disappointment, comes a rare and welcome opportunity.

It’s sometimes hard to describe how much something like a SSN contract can mean, yet in this year, given the uncertainty and instability the year had thrown at us, it has been greatly welcomed. 

What's Next

Following the announcement of my new club signing, I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I have received.  Friends and family are my rock and my greatest supporters; however, I wasn’t prepared for such a wonderful response from netball followers and the general public. I am elated and incredibly humbled. 

If this was New Year’s Eve and I was to think back to the year that was 2020, what I’ve learned is that I have developed into an incredibly resilient person.  I am optimistic and pragmatic, but also understand things don’t always go your own way. Everything happens for a reason and I look forward to what the future will bring.

It’s the journey not the destination.