Serena Guthrie has amassed 90 caps since her Vitality Roses debut in 2008 and has since evolved into the leader of a 12-strong squad about to embark on a Vitality Netball World Cup campaign in Liverpool this month.
Guthrie has had the captaincy bestowed upon her by head coach Tracey Neville and has thus been entrusted to galvanise her teammates to build on last year’s historic Commonwealth Games gold.
The tournament takes place over the course of 10 days in which the Roses could play eight games against the elite of world netball. Guthrie’s own netball journey began more than two decades ago but the prospect of a home World Cup is just around the corner.
“My love for the game grew”
Like so many of the young girls this mid-court star continues to inspire, Guthrie discovered her love for netball at her primary school. Growing up in Jersey, Team Bath’s co-captain recognises her competitive nature as the reason for her original foray into the sport.
“I was definitely a very competitive child and I remember always wanting to win on sports days, always wanting the red rosette for first. I think, for me, that’s where I started to find out how competitive I was and how much I really loved team sports,” she said.
“I think I started playing netball at eight years old, so a long time ago now,” said the 29-year-old. “I just did it because my friends did it and I would go literally everyday to netball after school. Even when netball club wasn’t on I was still on the courts shooting a ball, trying to learn the rules, and playing with my friends. I guess that’s kind of how my love for the game grew.”
“I had to find my own unique style”
Guthrie’s reputation as a world-class centre has allowed her to represent her country at two previous editions of the World Cup and play club netball as far as New Zealand and Australia. The middle of the court was, however, not where it all began.
“For me, I started as a goal defence and goal keeper but I moved out onto mid-court in 2008 or 2009,” she explained. “I started trying to play a bit more centre as well so that’s when my centre journey began.
“I thought ‘Oh my God, what is this? I just learnt how to play wing defence and now I have to start learning to play centre!’ There are no regrets now, though. It’s been a long journey but I obviously love playing in the middle for England and having that influence on the game.”
Her time at centre began suddenly but she was able to draw inspiration from other athletes when she was breaking through as a teenager, making her senior international debut as a 17 year old. Guthrie recalls setting New Zealand and current Sunshine Coast Lightning centre Laura Langman as the benchmark, but was uncompromising when it came to implementing her own unique style.
“At the time, Laura Langman was playing in the middle and she was almost the golden girl for New Zealand,” she said. “As a young player, I thought ‘Ok, cool. Let’s see if I can keep up with her’ whenever we played against the Kiwis. That was someone I was trying to set my sights for at a very young age.
“I then got some really good advice from an old coach of mine who said that I didn’t have to model myself on anyone, all I had to do is find my own unique style if I wanted to have a real impact on the game. That was a big turning point for me in terms of learning the position.”
“You need those people prepared to go the extra mile”
Guthrie has forged a career in which she has reached the pinnacle of her sport and is about to join just two captains – Josephine Higgins (1963) and Kendra Slawinski (1995) – to have led the Vitality Roses out at a World Cup on home soil. She does, however, not forget those who made it all possible.
“My mum was working hard to fund my trips away and she couldn’t always actually take me to training sessions, to trials and to the different teams. My coach at grassroots level, Linda Andrews, was that person who would come away with me catching planes, trains, boats, running in storms and in the rain,” she said.
“She is like family to me just because of those experiences and the fact that she was someone who believed I could achieve something really, really great. It’s really nice to be able to share my career with someone like that as well as my family because, when you start this journey out, you’ll never know if you’re going to make it and you just need those people prepared to go the extra mile just in case you do.”
Make sure you’re following @EnglandNetball for the latest news and updates!
By Conor de Smith