Ashleigh Brazill has one challenge for people who don’t think netball is tough – come and watch.
“I come from a football background and you always get comments that it’s a princess kind of sport,” she said. “I find it funny and just go, “Okay, come and have a watch.” My football team were like ‘Okay, we’ll watch one game.’ And now they come all the time! They love it!”
Brazill believes it’s a lack of visibility of women’s sport that leads to these kind of attitudes.
“I think it’s getting people to actually watch the game and realise that it’s not just a contact here and there just because you’re next to the player,” she said.
“There are big hits in the game and you just watch the circle – every game Caitlin Bassett is getting hit in the head. But that’s just the way the game is now."
"And I think that’s what people come to watch. It’s strong, female athletes getting out on court, playing the game they love.”
Despite coming from a netball-loving family, Brazill took some convincing about the sport herself in the early days, instead focussing on football and basketball.
“Basically anything that wasn’t netball,” she admitted with a laugh.
Coming back to the sport through friends, Brazill was spotted by a New South Wales Institute of Sport coach at a junior representative carnival and began making her way up the ranks, before being signed to the NSW Swifts as a 20-year-old.
After two seasons spent mostly on the bench, Brazill was offered an incredible opportunity.
“Norma Plummer retired from coaching the Australian team and took up the job with the West Coast Fever,” she said. “She got in contact with me straight away and said she wanted me over here. At that time I wasn’t getting much court time with the Swifts. The opportunity to get the coaching from Norma and learn from her experience was too good to turn down.”
Although she originally intended it to only be a two-year stint, Brazill admitted she “fell in love” with the team and the city.
At the start of the 2015 season, Brazill was selected as team captain for the Fever. It was surprising for the young woman who had never had leadership aspirations.
“To be honest, no. I never wanted to be a captain!” she said. “I was always the kid, the joker, always having a laugh and didn’t take things too seriously. I thought a coach would never see me that way. But two years ago was the first time we had a team vote and I was lucky enough to be voted in.”
Despite her early shock, Brazill has grown to love the role and understand that her teammates chose her as someone who leads by example, who puts her all into every game and every training session.
“That definitely took the pressure off the word ‘captain’,” she admitted.
The captaincy that season came with an extra challenge – the incumbent captain Natalie Medhurst was still part of the team. With a new coach taking over, it had been decided to start fresh with a team vote for captain.
However, for Brazill, it never felt like a problem.
“Nat is unreal,” she said. “She’s a mentor to me. If I ever struggle with anything, I’m straight on the phone to her. When they asked me to be captain, the first thing I said was ‘How’s Nat?’ Obviously she’d be devastated, but she called me straight away and congratulated me and said that she’d support me no end. And she has lived up to her word. I think everyone thought there would be a blow up, but there was none of that.”
That 2015 season was the most successful for the Fever to date, with the team making their first finals appearance. But a gruelling travel schedule in 2016 hasn’t helped their cause in repeating the effort, with the Perth team currently sitting in fourth position in the Australian conference.
“I think the effect of travel is something that’s not fully appreciated,” Brazill said. “I remember when I was in the Swifts and we flew to Perth once a year and I thought ‘This is the longest flight ever!’ And you’d never think about the other side doing it all the time. It’s something that I’ve only just started to get used to. You feel like it doesn’t take a toll on your body, but if you compare the way we play in home games to how we play away, there’s definitely a difference. We’re starting to manage it better and our performances are getting more consistent in away games. We take it as a challenge – we want to stand up against it and we don’t want any excuses.”
The other issue plaguing her side this year is a tendency to turn the ball over at crucial moments.
“I think we’ve just got this thing against ourselves at the moment,” she said.
“Obviously all the teams are amazing athletes, amazing teams. But, we’re fighting against ourselves at the moment, we’re not treasuring the ball when we have it."
"I think the hardest part is that it’s not happening in the same area, everybody is throwing one ball away a game. That’s the most frustrating thing, because it’s like – what do you work on? All of us are doing it, it’s not just one area of the court.”
Brazill believes her team has what it takes to address their issues and take out the final ever ANZ Championship. However, what the future holds beyond that is uncertain, with a new national league set to launch in 2017.
“I’m definitely happy in WA, but you just never know!” she said. “Every year when contract season comes up, you get a bit worried. It’d be nice to hear that I have a contract here, but I’m not even sure that I’ll have that, so I’m just waiting, seeing if I even get that before I start looking elsewhere.”
See Ashleigh in action this weekend
Adelaide Thunderbirds v West Coast Fever
Sunday, 5 June 2016