Today (21/03/21), we celebrate the birthday of legendary shooter Jo Harten as the Vitality Rose turns 32!
The England centurion hasn’t featured since starring at the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup in Liverpool, so her return to the side ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games title defence is eagerly anticipated.
She combined excellently with Helen Housby in the circle during that tournament on Merseyside and it was that combination that also proved crucial to the Roses’ unprecedented triumph in 2018.
Jo fed Helen in the dying seconds of the Commonwealth Games gold medal match against hosts Australia as the New South Wales goaler put up the winning shot to spark jubilant scenes in the Gold Coast as England lifted the trophy for the first time.
— Jo Harten (@Jarten) April 15, 2018
But Tracey Neville’s team might not have experienced that moment of ecstasy had it not been for Jo’s vital contribution in the semi-final.
Facing extra-time against an imposing Jamaica outfit, Jo scored with the last play of the contest to clinch a 56-55 victory and set up that meeting with Australia that will live long in English netball history.
“I think 2018 was so special in many many ways and obviously, the gold medal on the Gold Coast has to be the career highlight,” Jo told Sky Sports in 2019.
“Not just because of winning the gold but I think it was how we did it, we played as a 12. We went out there and kind of just stuck to our guns, stuck to our own process and kept in our own bubble, which is extremely hard to do in a multi-sport event.”
“You’ve got the Commonwealth Games village where there’s so many distractions and different athletes and things happening, and we kind of just zoned in on each other.
“I’ve never been part of a team like that before and dealt with outward pressure as one and then pulled out two really strong performances over that finals weekend to beat Jamaica by one and then the next day in the final beat Australia by one to take the gold, yeah memories that will last a lifetime.”
The majority of that squad were a part of the subsequent summer’s home Netball World Cup where Jo claimed her third successive bronze medal in that competition.
The Vitality Roses were disappointed not to reach the final after being edged out by eventual champions New Zealand, but it was a special event for so many more reasons.
The sport captured the imagination of millions across the country with sell-out crowds inside the M&S Bank Arena and record viewing figures on television.
And for Jo, it was the culmination of a journey that began 12 years earlier on her international debut against Barbados as she secured her 100th cap in a win over the Uganda She Cranes.
🌹 100 UP 🌹
— Sky Sports Netball (@SkyNetball) July 12, 2019
The four-year cycle spanning the Commonwealth Games and the Netball World Cup was a rewarding yet incredibly demanding effort.
As a result, Jo was among several players who took a break from the international setup post World Cup and again, speaking to Sky Sports, she said: “I’m trying to stay out of it because part of having a little break from the international game for probably this six-month period is about mentally detaching yourself from the England programme.
“We have so many WhatsApp groups and you’ve got so much information when you’re in that system and in that programme, that it’s really hard to keep up with that all year round.
“So, I’ve tried to take a little step back from the netball information and just try and be ‘normal Jo’ for a few weeks and a few months.”
The break has become more protracted due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, that didn’t prevent the GIANTS Netball star from still enjoying a successful 2020.
Jo signed for the Suncorp Super Netball outfit in 2017 after spells with Canterbury Tactix and Waikato Magic in New Zealand and with Saracens Mavericks and Loughborough Lightning in the Vitality Netball Superleague.
And last year, she was appointed co-captain of the Sydney-based club and led the Super Shot charts at the end of the season as she sunk 78 to finish 21 clear of her nearest rival.
Earlier in 2020, she was honoured off the court when she was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) after being named in the New Year Honours list in recognition of her services to netball.
Proud to say that my bestie and I @serenabob have been awarded MBE’s in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list. An exciting personal accolade, but the hard work of my team mates and those that play a role in building… https://t.co/tHC3cVMtyZ
— Jo Harten (@Jarten) December 28, 2019
Now that 2021 has arrived and the future is looking brighter, Jo, who was selected into the 2020/21 Vitality Roses programme, is targeting more glory on the international stage.
“I’m definitely feeling like my body is in the position to be able to push for another Comm Games and potentially a World Cup,” she told The Advocate.
“I think there’s some unfinished business at the World Cup tournament, having never reached a final there.”
It’s been a while but it will definitely be worth the wait to see Jo Harten back in the red dress again!