Sport

Goal keeper Geva Mentor on netball’s ‘white line fever’. By Cindy MacDonald.
Credit: SUPPLIED

Electric defence: Geva Mentor, 31, netballer

I grew up with my very sporty parents and younger brother on the south coast of England. There are about five generations on my mum’s side from Bournemouth, and Dad’s from St Lucia in the Caribbean. I did various sports at school and competed highly at junior level in trampolining, but I started to grow a bit too tall for the stereotypical gymnast or trampolinist.

I used to struggle with nerves as a youngster. In individual sports it really used to get the better of me, and when I was competing I couldn’t eat all day. Mum said, “Let’s get you into a team sport and see if that calms you down a little bit.” I picked up netball purely because my friends at school all played.

I always say netball chose me rather than I chose it. I ended up in the England under 17s at the age of 14. I’d only been playing for two years or so, but at that tournament I was selected to trial with the senior England girls and I was officially selected at the age of 16 and got my first Test cap at 17.

When I was about 22 I got an invite from the Adelaide Thunderbirds with a contract. That was my introduction to semi-professional sport and where netball could actually take me. I fell in love with the Australian way of life. The weather is so good, and Adelaide was the perfect introduction to a very easy, laid-back lifestyle. I spent seven months of the year playing here and then used to go home for the other five, so it was a really nice balance. After three good years in Adelaide, I got the opportunity to come to Melbourne. But I guess it wasn’t really until I met a boy that I started to spend a bit longer out here. I married Lachlan Crawford just before Christmas. Then on Australia Day I became a dual English/Australian citizen – it felt like the logical next step. 

Not that you limit yourself but I guess when you’re 6'2" [188 centimetres] you are always looking for someone a bit taller. The beauty is Lachy is 6'4" so I can almost get away with a kitten heel and he’s still got me covered. You tend to find it’s the really short guys who actually have more confidence to come up and talk to you, but bless Lachy, he approached me and we had a good conversation and here we are married four years later. He’s a PE teacher by trade so very involved in sport.

I became captain of England for last year’s World Cup. When Tracey [Neville, England’s coach] phoned to ask would I be prepared to lead our team, I really wasn’t expecting it at all, being someone who has based most of my playing career in Australia. But I was just ecstatic and I guess it was an opportunity that I’ve been moulded towards for many years, having played under some great captains and having seen some great leadership styles. 

When you’ve got different strips on from girls who are normally teammates, it’s still that white-line fever – it’s just about trying to shut the opposition down. The most fun experience was at the 2014 Commonwealth Games when [Vixens teammates] Tegan Caldwell and Madi Robinson were both in the Australian team. They knew my game and I knew theirs, so it was just a battle out on court. But afterwards in the athletes’ village we could catch up and it was really nice to have that friendship base there. 

Netballers are getting fitter and faster and stronger off the court, and obviously that translates to play on the court and the demands put on our bodies. Touch wood, I’ve had a pretty good run as far as injuries go. As you become more of a mature athlete you start to know what you need to do in the gym and your program is about maintenance. 

 I’d love to keep playing for England and then hang up my red dress after the World Cup in Liverpool in 2019. I’ve gone back to school now and am studying for a degree, and working as well, so it’s nice to have that balance. I’ve done a lot of coaching and a lot of work in schools and I thought, “Why not study primary teaching?” It’s been 15, 16 years since I put pen to paper to write essays. But I’ve got great support from my husband and a lot of the young girls in my team are still studying, so now we can talk study notes and have study sessions.

The sport is moving into a more professional realm. But we need to keep younger players coming through grounded and well supported and make sure they don’t get lost in that professional environment where you can get caught up in your own bubble and maybe go off track a little bit. There are some fantastic role models within our sport and I think those women will help guide the young ones. And, yes, I do see myself as a bit of a mentor to the younger girls. That’s why I kept my last name!

I’m all for boys and men getting into netball and giving it a go because I think they bring a new dynamic to the game and it’s exciting for the sport. It’s a fast, exhilarating game and anyone who thinks it’s not should put their trainers on and step out on court or come along and watch one of the games at an elite level. Hopefully they will change their minds and I won’t need to talk them into it. Otherwise, come stand against me…

 

This week’s highlights…

AFL: Brisbane Lions v Hawthorn

Saturday, 1.45pm (AEST), The Gabba, Brisbane

• Netball: Melbourne Vixens v Adelaide Thunderbirds

Saturday, 5pm (AEST), Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne

• Super Rugby: Blues v Crusaders

Saturday, 5.35pm (AEST), Eden Park, Auckland

• Soccer: UEFA Champions League final – Real Madrid v Atlético Madrid

Sunday, 4.45am (AEST), San Siro Stadium, Milan

• Motorsport: Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix

Sunday, 10pm (AEST), Circuit de Monaco, Monte Carlo

• NRL: State of Origin I – NSW Blues v Queensland Maroons

Wednesday, 8pm (AEST), ANZ Stadium, Sydney

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 28, 2016 as "Electric defence". Subscribe here.

Cindy MacDonald
is The Saturday Paper’s deputy editor.