The great defender: Laura Geitz, 27, netball player
Laura Geitz is captain of the Australian Diamonds netball team and the Queensland Firebirds. In 2011, she was awarded the Liz Ellis Diamond and named trans-Tasman ANZ Championship Player of the Year.
[RC] Goalkeepers in many sports have a reputation for being eccentric.
[Laura Geitz] It’s interesting, that question. I’m a very different person on the court. As soon as I cross the line I become an aggressive and pretty physical player, where in everyday life I’m the total opposite to that. I wouldn’t say I’m crazy or eccentric – I think it’s just a real switch in personalities.
[RC] The Australian netball team is known for its physical style of play. That’s attracted some controversy.
[LG] Yeah. Obviously last year in the Constellation Cup [Test series between Australia and New Zealand] there was a fair bit of discussion surrounding the physicality of the game. But we have a game plan, and the Australian style of play is hard one-on-one defence. That’s what we stick to and that’s what wins us games. We are relentless for 60 minutes on court. The reality is the game is changing: girls are stronger, they’re fitter and they’re faster, and that’s why we’re seeing that really hard contest.
[RC] Because of the positions, netball seems like a sport that is always going to result in personal rivalries.
[LG] Your responsibility as a defender is take your player out of the game, or, as an attacker, burn your defender and score as many goals as you possibly can. It’s interesting to follow a game, the way it sort of ebbs and flows.
[RC] Last year you got married, almost quit netball when your father died, and then became captain of Australia.
[LG] It was a year of emotional highs and lows. I’ve become a lot stronger; it was a massive learning year. We missed the grand final by two goals – sometimes it’s easier to lose by 10 goals than two goals. Then all of a sudden I found myself as captain of Australia. It didn’t all go to plan, that’s for sure, but I think I’m a better person for it.
[RC] It was your mother who talked you out of taking a break from netball.
[LG] Yeah. Mum encouraged me to stay in the sport, and after having a couple of weeks off, coming back seemed like the right thing to do. I’ve got my family, but I’ve also got my other family – the girls I play netball with – and they were a huge support for me. I felt like I could come back and slot in well, and I’m really glad that I did it.
[RC] For a combative sport, netball has a supportive culture. Your teammate Romelda Aiken dedicated a game-winning performance to you, and even your arch-rival Irene van Dyk had some kind words.
[LG] I’m not sure, to be honest. I don’t really remember too much that happened in those few weeks. But just the support that I have from my team, and the wider netball community was just … It was overwhelming. That’s the wonderful thing about our sport, we’re fierce out on court against each other, but when we need to, we rally behind each other and support one another.
[RC] You were very shy growing up.
[LG] Yeah. I was a really shy country girl [from Allora, in south-eastern Queensland]. But I was always involved in sport, and from a young age as soon as I was competing, I did have that case of white-line fever. Netball was the first real team sport I was involved in, and that allowed me to become a bit more extroverted. Over the years, I’ve probably come out of my shell a little bit. I still get shy at times, but in a leadership role you do really have to be a voice. My husband tells me that I could talk under concrete, so I think I’ve got that side of things covered.
[RC] Your husband [rugby union player Mark Gilbride] is a former professional sportsman as well. Do you talk things through?
[LG] Yeah, he’s actually really good. If we’ve won, then he’ll bring me back down to earth. And if we’ve lost, and I’m having a bit of a whinge, he’ll tell me to just get over it and get on with it. Mark knows the highs and lows of professional sport, and that’s extremely important. We’re away a lot, and he understands that. A lot of people don’t understand the time and effort that goes in to training.
[RC] You’ve always planned to end up back in the country.
[LG] I was 18 when I left the country and had to go down to the AIS in Canberra. It was a huge change for me. I was used to the wide-open spaces and being surrounded by my family. I loved the country lifestyle, it was laid back, it was easygoing, and then all of a sudden I was in this intense training environment with concrete walls. It probably took me a good two months, three months, to really adjust.
[RC] It was hard?
[LG] It was bloody hard; I hated it. Initially I hated being away from home and my family, and not having my dog, or my horse to ride. All of those simple things that you take for granted when you live in the country. That’s a huge part of who I am. My family still lives out there, and Mark and I have been blessed enough to have our own piece of the farm. It’s very special – I’d love to be able to move back there one day.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 15, 2014 as "The great defender". Subscribe here.