The last ten months have already made 2019 a whirlwind year for Natalie Panagarry.
Panagarry has captained Loughborough Lightning to a top four finish in the Vitality Netball Superleague and was selected to represent her country at the Vitality Netball World Cup.
The mid-courter has another exciting year ahead of her and will write another exciting chapter in her netball journey.
“I enjoyed meeting people and making friends”
When Nat Panagarry stepped onto the court against Uganda in Liverpool this summer, it proved to be her first appearance for the Vitality Roses at a major international tournament.
The 28-year-old’s six games at the M&S Bank Arena represented the culmination of years of hard work and self-improvement.
“I started playing netball when I was nine years old,” said Panagarry. “It was the thing at school that I really enjoyed. It was something I loved to do. I enjoyed doing lots of different sports, meeting people and making new friends.
“When I started playing, the biggest influences on me were probably my PE teachers. At the time, my mum and dad worked full-time so they were the ones who used to take me to netball.
“I then went to a club in Blackburn. My coach definitely drilled a lot into me that I’m really thankful for like work rate, effort and leadership skills. That all came from her so I’m really grateful.”
“Jade Clarke was someone who I looked up to”
Panagarry is now at the top of her game and she became a household name during her four years with Loughborough Lightning.
She was named in the VNSL 2019 All Star VII last season and was nominated for the Vitality Player of the Year and the Fans’ Player of the Year awards.
The centre of the court was not where she began her career but she feels she is reaping the rewards of playing in a variety of different positions.
“I’ve not always played the centre court position. I used to play goal attack and goal defence but I moved into the centre court positions due to my height.
“It was quite nice to have different roles when you’re younger and play in different positions. I would definitely say a lot of kids need to trial positions across the court,” she said.
As Panagarry’s role started to shift, her influences and idols began to reflect this positional change.
“Karen Atkinson and Olivia Murphy were my idols growing up. They were both centres and both were captains of England at different times. I’m really lucky that I’ve been coached by both of them and I’m still being coached by Liv to this day.
“When I started playing for England in the youth systems, Jade Clarke was someone who played centre and I looked up to her massively for her work rate, effort and everything. I still look at her.
“Now it’s probably Laura Langman. As a centre, she is someone who I look up to especially due to her age. She’s still going and is one of the best centres in the world.”
“You don’t know what is going to happen”
Panagarry made her Vitality Roses debut against Australia in 2016 and has since evolved into an integral member of the squad.
The former Yorkshire Jets star began her tenure in a red dress by playing for the U17 and U19 sides. After falling short of U21 selection, she became solely focused on the VNSL before taking a break from the sport completely at the age of 21.
“I think my journey might be slightly different to everybody else’s. I got into U17 and U19 England teams but didn’t manage to get into U21s. I was no longer in the England set-up,” explained Panagarry.
“At university, I was pretty much playing in the Vitality Netball Superleague with Yorkshire Jets. From the age of 21, I stopped playing netball completely to work at a school full-time and go travelling for a few years.”
Panagarry returned to netball after receiving a phone call from Karen Atkinson with an offer to play for Lightning. Playing with the likes of Jade Clarke and Ama Agbeze, she quickly rediscovered her best form.
“It was an unbelievable team for me to learn from and get back playing with some of the best netballers within this country. I was really lucky that I was picked to be in the Roses programme so it has kind of been a bit of a whirlwind for me I suppose.
“After not playing netball and not knowing whether it would be my future at the age of 23 or 24, I’m lucky I can now say that it has been an amazing four-year cycle.
“To end those four years at the Vitality Netball World Cup was a massive pinnacle and proves anything can happen on anyone’s journey. You don’t know what is going to happen or where the sport is going to take you. That’s quite exciting for me.”
“I feel like it’s a really exciting year for me”
Panagarry has an exciting year ahead due to the potential prospect of gaining further international experience and having another productive season with Lightning.
The wing defence will have high hopes for her teams’ chances in 2020 but also has personal ambitions of her own.
“It’s quite exciting this year. It’s the first year in the cycle so it’s a good time for everyone to work on themselves individually and to have our own goals and achievements,” she said.
“I’m still working on things on the court and there are skills I still want to improve on. At the same time, I want to improve my leadership skills and the impact that I can have on the younger girls coming through. I feel like it’s a really exciting year for me.”