From a small court in Harlow to the biggest stage on the Gold Coast, Jo Harten flew to the top of world netball.
And on Monday, after 16 years at the top and 117 appearances in the red dress of the Vitality Roses, Jo called time on a spectacular international career.
Where it began
Before picking up a netball, Jo watched her mum from the sidelines, playing in the local league on a Tuesday night in Essex. At six years old she decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and went up to one of the coaches and said: ‘‘My name is Jo Harten and can you put me down for netball?’
She started at centre but quickly realised that the shooting circle was where she felt most natural. She would spend hours practicing her technique from shooting under a post in her garden to throwing teabags into mugs in the kitchen. Jo’s eye for goal became second nature at a very early age.
She joined Tegate Netball Club where she was supported by coaches Carol Bull and Jean Cant. They sat down with Jo at 13 where she told them she wanted to play for England. From there, Carol and Jean would go on to help Jo to achieve her dream, helping with shooting drills on her driveway to then attending each of her England trials before she became professional at the age of just 17.
In 2007, Jo made her debut for the Vitality Roses at the Netball World Cup against Barbados – a tournament she would go on to make three further appearances at – announcing herself on to the world stage.
Along with a desire to play for her country, Harten had ambitions to be a professional netballer.
Following the unveiling of the ANZC in Australia and New Zealand, Jo had her sights set. The shooter requested videos from Australia and New Zealand to learn more about the players and the league overseas as she refined her technique to improve year after year.
After four years in the Netball Super League with Saracens Mavericks and Loughborough Lightning, the shooter earned herself a contract at Canterbury Tactix.
Whilst getting to grips with a different domestic league, Jo continued her progression with England and in 2010 received her first call-up to Team England for the Commonwealth Games in India.
Speaking on the England Netball podcast Courtside, Jo fondly remembers the experience but not for a reason many would guess.
“It was a weird experience because not many people play netball in India when they hosted the Games and I remember being there and soaking everything in, watching all the sports including netball.
“Weirdly, that was actually one of the best balls I’ve every played with. It just had excellent grip, it was white and blue and it was really good to shoot with. If you’re on a good shooting day, it’s often because of the ball.”
Listen to the full episode of Courtside here.
Elation on the Gold Coast
Following two World Cup bronze medals and a fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, Jo and the Vitality Roses travelled Down Under in search of bettering their highest-ever finish at a major tournament.
After a bright start to the competition that saw England win five out of five in their pool, including an important win over New Zealand, the Vitality Roses took on Jamaica in the semi-final as both went in search of securing their first appearance at a final. With nothing between the two sides, it would take an incredible piece of attacking play from Jo herself to see them over the line as she fought for a vital rebound on the baseline before sinking the winning shot in the dying seconds.
One moment of elation led to another as Jo and the Vitality Roses played out history, winning their first gold medal against the hosts Australia with another last-second victory, this time through the other half of what became known as H2 – Helen Housby.
100 appearances in Liverpool
After inspiring a nation in 2018, Jo returned to England a year later to play in the Vitality Netball World Cup 2019 as the team looked to build on an incredible legacy.
Stepping out for their first game against Uganda, the team were greeted with adulation. For Jo, this was a special game for another reason as it marked her 100th appearance in the red dress – 4,410 days after making her first appearance in 2007.
The tournament would end with England finishing in the bronze medal position following a victory over South Africa. In the final moments of the game, Jo selflessly made way for shooting partner Rachel Dunn who came on for her final England appearance, much to the delight of the Liverpool crowd.
Sharing this clip today? Got to be Dunn… 😊
🎊 Have a brilliant birthday, @rach_dunn!
📹: Sky Sports pic.twitter.com/gsMgoisaJ6
— England Netball (@EnglandNetball) November 14, 2020
One final victory
In January 2023, in what would turn out to be Jo’s final outing with the Vitality Roses, England celebrated successive series wins over the Jamaica Sunshine Girls. Jo made her final appearance at a sold-out AO Arena in Manchester where, playing alongside her familiar partner, Housby and star for the future, Olivia Tchine, the trio shot at an incredible average of 96%, with Jo sinking 37/39 to record the highest number of goals scored by an England team against Jamaica.
After the Vitality Roses clinched victory in the final game on Sunday, Jo celebrated her final victory in iconic style as she brought friend and England legend, Serena Kersten (Guthrie) and her young daughter Remi into the celebrations on court, much to the delight of the adoring Copper Box Crowd.
The cutest honorary member of the Vitality Roses: Remi Kersten 💕 pic.twitter.com/ItVdfUOfkZ
— England Netball (@EnglandNetball) January 16, 2023