Where it all began: Jo Harten

Jo Harten made history when she stepped onto court against the Uganda She Cranes on Friday night. The Vitality Roses were victorious in their opening Vitality Netball World Cup encounter but there were various individual milestones scattered throughout the squad.

At one end of the spectrum, Fran Williams made her Vitality Netball World Cup debut in what was her fourth cap for her country. At the other, Harten was making her 100th appearance for the Vitality Roses.

Her first and centurion cap were separated by 12 years with Harten’s debut coming against Barbados in 2007. Those 4,410 days tell her story as an England international but her netball story began a long time prior.

“I started when I was six years old”

Harten might now be one of the most recognisable names on Tracey Neville’s team sheet but there was a time when she was just watching on the sidelines, having never previously picked up a netball.

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She credits her parents for her introduction to netball; her mother for playing in her local league and her father for installing a competitiveness that was rife throughout her household growing up.

“I started when I was six years old. I used to watch my mum and her local club team play on a Tuesday night at the Harlow Sports Centre in Essex and decided that was the sport for me. I boldly went up to one of the coaches said ‘My name is Jo Harten and can you put me down for netball?’ and that’s how my journey started,” she said.

“I came from a really competitive family. My dad had me playing games in the kitchen from age three, like throwing tea bags in teacups and things like that. When I was old enough to play sport, I took up netball but was also the only girl on an all boy’s football team up until the age of 12. I used to go down to the park to play tennis, played hockey at school, I was just mad for everything.”

“I’ve always been a shooter”

Against the She Cranes, Harten showed on the world’s biggest stage in front of a sell-out crowd at the M&S Bank Arena, exactly why she has recorded a century of caps.

The 30-year-old goal shooter scored the most goals of anyone on the court with 29, recording an impressive 83 percent shooting accuracy from 35 attempts. According to the Giants Netball star, she has had plenty of practice.

“I’ve always been a shooter, I’ve always liked scoring the goals and taking the glory I suppose. I did have a little flutter at wing attack when I was younger which was a really valuable time for me because I got to see how the circle is fed and where the shooters need the ball, but I’ve always been a shooter at the highest level. I’m an absolute pro at goal keeper in training, though.”

“I sat them down and said I wanted to play for England”

Netball quickly became an infatuation for Harten despite her aforementioned love for all forms of sport. When growing up, she would often receive footage of the best talent playing abroad and would spend her school holidays analysing the tapes.

“I actually had videos sent over from Australia and New Zealand when I was a young child of the netball leagues over there,” she explained.

“My two idols were Sharelle McMahon, the ex-Australia Diamonds goal attack, and Donna Wilkins (née Loffhagen). They were both goal attacks, both very clever on the ball and had a lot of court-craft.

“I used to sit in the summer holidays watching my VCR, rewinding their plays and was ultimately trying to be like them.”

Her idols might have derived from halfway across the globe but it was at grassroots level back in England where she started to master her craft.

Jo Harten on her 100th cap for the Vitality Roses. Source | SWpix.com

Jo Harten on her 100th cap for the Vitality Roses. Source | SWpix.com

This is no doubt thanks to her coaches who, like so many others who currently coach at that level, took more time than was required to nurture a young Harten with private shooting sessions at her family home.

“My coaches were a pair called Karen Ball and Jean Cant. They coached me at Tegate and I basically sat them down one day when I was 13 and told them I wanted to play for England. Ever since I told them that, they would come to the driveway of my house and give me private shooting sessions pretending to be defenders,” she said.

“They gave up all of their time to come to every single one of my England trials as well so I owe a lot to those two and the journey they came on with me. Up until I was about 17, they were right by my side until they let me go and flourish. That’s when I started playing professionally.

“If we didn’t have those people in our country, in our communities then we wouldn’t be able to function as a netballing nation.”

“I’m just following that dream and living it”

At the age of just seven, playing for her country became a dream for Harten who was inspired by watching her first Vitality Roses game in the 90’. In fact, when training in her garden, she would often visualise shooting to win the Vitality Netball World Cup.

When she next steps out in Liverpool, on Saturday afternoon against Scottish Thistles, to win her 101st cap, she could be one step closer to ensuring she gets that opportunity.

“I pretty much told my dad I was going to play for England when I was seven years old. I just had that ambition as soon as I saw my first England game in 1997. I told everyone that was going to be me, that’s what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to train to do,” she explained.

“Even when I was 11 shooting in my garden, I was pretending it was the gold medal match and the shot to win the World Cup. That’s what I would say to myself when I was out in the garden when it was pouring with rain and I was just a kid with a ball.

“It’s an honour to potentially have an opportunity like that particularly at home. It’s what I’ve dreamed of my whole life and I’m just following that dream and living it.”

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