Gretel Tippett didn’t take the traditional route to netball. While most of the players in the ANZ Championship pulled on their first netball skirt at age seven and powered on from there, Tippett waited until she was 19 to get into the sport, while taking a break from her basketball career after recovering from glandular fever.
“A friend from school, Jess, who I’d grown up with, asked me to come along with her to netball training one afternoon and I loved it and I never really looked back!” she said.
“I still love basketball too – I love both sports. But netball was lots of fun and it was a new challenge. I remember watching the ANZ Champs on TV while I was still playing basketball and seeing how professional it was and how athletic and exciting the games were."
"And then I started playing and I learnt about how you move – I’d grown up watching my brothers play AFL and I think it’s kind of similar in how some of the structures work. I fell in love with it!”
It didn’t take long before Tippett caught the eye of an ANZ Championship coach – the NSW Swifts’ Rob Wright – and was offered a contract to go and play in Sydney.
“Rob went to watch Under 21 Nationals and saw me play,” she said. “He said that I’d make the Australian Under 21 team and at that stage I didn’t even really believe that! So the fact that he really believed in me was so exciting. I was so excited to go to the Swifts and live with my brother Kurt and be part of the ANZ Championship and sign with a team, so it was a great experience.”
Despite having a family member close by, Tippett missed the rest of her family and friends and going home for a visit after her first season in Sydney made her realise just how much.
“I came home for my 21st birthday,” she said. “I’d signed for another season, but I came home and the girls I was really good friends with from the Firebirds – Kim Ravaillion and Gabi Simpson –came down from Brisbane and I got to see all my friends from home again and be back with my family. And after that experience, I was like ‘There’s no way I can go back to Sydney, I just love home too much!’ And then I got a call from Rose [Jencke, Queensland Firebirds coach] after the grand final and saying that she wanted me. I saw an opportunity in the Firebirds line up to possibly get a run if I worked really hard.”
And work hard she did. Tippett has flourished in the Firebirds’ team culture and has taken her natural athleticism and flair and added a more traditional netball shooting style to the mix. Known for her lay-up skills, which she’s customised to conform to netball’s stricter footwork rules, Tippett believes her style brings something new and fun to the game.
— Toni Caldwell (@toni_caldwell) July 18, 2016
“I think in a way, it does make the game a little bit more exciting, when it’s used at the right times,” she said. “It adds another factor in that ‘Is she going to shoot, is she going to step in, is she going to do a lay-up?’ It’s something else I can put out there on court that’s a little bit different – different to the structure and different for the defenders to have to think about.”
But when asked if she supports proposed changes to the rules for next season’s competition – namely the much-talked about two-point rule, Tippett laughs.
“No, not at all!” she said. “I think the introduction of a two-point shot would be detrimental to the game. I think netball is exciting enough as it is and doesn’t need to be changed like that.”
Away from the court, Tippett runs a business with her Firebirds teammate Kim Ravaillion, designing health and fitness programs for aspiring young netballers. It was a service that grew from demand.
“We used to get direct messaged on Instagram a lot,” she said. “People knew I was studying nutrition, so they’d ask what they should eat before a game, or asked what we ate for dinner. And with Kim being so fit on the netball court, she used to get asked about what workouts she did."
"We thought ‘Why don’t we put together a little program instead of all these people asking us, maybe we could just say look we’ve got a program here if you want to know what we eat and how we exercise during the season, we’ve got a six-week program.’ And then we thought, well we do change in the off-season and in the pre-season, so we’ve got three programs out now and it all just came about from being asked questions!”
With her second consecutive grand final with the Firebirds looming, Tippett is excited to be part of a team who believes so strongly in each other and in their ability to win back-to-back premierships.
“Everyone’s equal, if you’re on the bench your voice counts just as much,” she said. “Because the girls on the bench have the eyes, they can see what’s going on and we really love that they give us advice. Everyone has full respect for each other and we just really enjoy each other’s company on and off the court."
"I know Rose places a big emphasis on that with her recruiting – she works out and puts the time into finding out whether people will gel with the team. I think she does a great job with that. It’s pretty special and rare, but it’s something that we want to use to our advantage, when we’re out there in the heat of the moment and our backs are up against the wall and it’s down to the wire, we can look each other in the eye and just know that we can do it together.”