Returning England stars Serena Guthrie and Layla Guscoth are among a star-studded Team Bath Netball squad setting their sights on the title during the 2021 Vitality Superleague season.
Rising Vitality Roses stars Imogen Allison and Sophie Drakeford-Lewis will also be in the Blue & Gold once again, while Commonwealth champion Eboni Usoro-Brown is back in the squad just weeks after giving birth to daughter Savannah.
Aussie shooter Kim Commane and England defender Summer Artman, last season’s captain and vice-captain respectively, have also recommitted to Team Bath along with fan favourite Rachel Shaw and exciting young talents Betsy Creak, Tash Pavelin, Hannah Passmore and Abi Robson.
Completing the line-up are England Futures player Jess Shaw and former Roses U19 captain Chartie Curtis, both of whom are returning to the Haines Watts-sponsored Blue & Gold for the 2021 campaign, and Kirsty Harris, who has progressed through Team Bath’s youth ranks.
Anna Stembridge, Team Bath Netball’s Superleague Head Coach, said: “I’m really excited about the squad we have put together this year, it is a real blend of youth, experience and players who are steeped in the culture of this club.
“We’ve retained the majority of the squad that started last season so brilliantly and strengthened it by bringing back proven world-class players like Serena and Layla, and hungry, ambitious talents in Jess and Chartie.
“All have previous Superleague experience in the Blue & Gold apart from Kirsty but she has been with the club since she was 15 and was a training associate with us last season, so there are existing combinations to build on and partnerships that will continue to develop and mature. They know how we want to play, what the values of this club are and everyone is fully invested in what we are trying to achieve.
“To win a championship this year, perhaps more than any other year, is going to require a full squad effort and I am excited to see how this group rises to the challenge.”
Centre Guthrie, who returned to competitive netball after a 15-month break as England co-captain on their recent three-match tour of New Zealand, said: “I’m looking forward to coming back into the squad, a revamped competition and getting back on court with my team-mates.
“I have had a really nice time away from the game, not just physically but more importantly mentally too, so I’m feeling refreshed and ready to come back.”
Defender Guscoth has spent the past two years playing professionally in Australia for Adelaide Thunderbirds but is looking forward to returning to Team Bath, where her outstanding performances saw her named in the Superleague Team of the Year in both 2017 and 2018.
“I’m really excited to be back at Team Bath,” said Guscoth, who is also resuming her off-court career as a doctor. “It was such a strong family environment in the couple of years I was here before and I really loved it, I really felt like I thrived there.
“I think Bath is unique as it has everything in one place, which is quite hard to come by in Superleague – everything you need is here at the Sports Training Village – but what made it feel really homely for me were the players and coaches. They are a great group of people.”
Wing-defence Allison, who made her senior England debut in New Zealand last month, is focussing full-time on her netball career this year after graduating from the University of Bath and said: “I think I have built and developed with the team over the last few seasons and it’s been really fun to build relationships with different players. I never once thought about going elsewhere.”
England goal-attack Drakeford-Lewis is still a student at Bath, combining her flourishing netball career with an Integrated Mechanical & Electrical Engineering course. “I love the environment at Team Bath,” she said. “It’s such a family and everyone is really nice but they train really hard and are constantly pushing you. The set-up, the coaches and support staff are all incredible.”
Also keen to get back on court for both club and country in 2021 is Usoro-Brown, who is back in training and preparing for her 11th season with Team Bath just weeks after becoming a mother for the first time.
“I’m absolutely loving motherhood, Savannah is an absolute delight,” said the defender, who has more than 100 England caps. “Team Bath have been absolutely fantastic throughout. When I announced my pregnancy back in February, Anna was so supportive and the team were so supportive.
“They gave me a strength and conditioning programme to follow while I was pregnant. Hopefully my transition back to court will be smooth but also respecting the fact that it is going to take me a little while to get back into shape.”
Another club stalwart, back for her ninth season, is wing-attack Rachel Shaw, who said: “It’s always a pleasure to play in the Blue & Gold and an honour to be out on court. Here at Team Bath we try to build year on year and I’m really excited by the squad we have put together.”
She will once again be joined in the squad by younger sister Jess Shaw, who spent 2017 and 2018 with Team Bath before gaining more valuable Superleague experience with Loughborough Lightning.
“Getting that game-time at Loughborough has made me feel a lot more confident and I can’t wait to get on court with the Bath girls and see where we can go,” said the mid-courter.
“When I was here last time we got to the semi-finals but I feel with the squad we have this year we can take the title.”
Signing on for a third season with Team Bath is Australian shooter Commane, who captained the club to a brilliant start in the 2020 season before it was curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic.
“I’m chomping at the bit to get back,” she said. “It’s a real shame we didn’t get to finish off what we started last season but looking at our line-up for the 2021 campaign, it’s going to be good – it’s going to be really good!”
Defender Artman, who has represented England at every level, was vice-captain last season and added: “We definitely have unfinished business. I can’t wait to get out on court with this team and step it up again, we are just going to attack this season and put our best foot forward each and every game. Who knows what is going to happen but whatever comes our way we will be ready.”
Artman forged an excellent defensive partnership last season with Pavelin, who said: “It was such an exciting experience for me, starting all three games and putting out performances that I was really proud of. I’m hoping I can build on those performances and start the new season as I ended the last one.”
Adding further competition in defence is University of Bath student Curtis, who spent last season at Surrey Storm while on a placement year in London. She has fully recovered from the anterior cruciate ligament injury which cut short her debut Superleague campaign with Team Bath in 2019.
“I am so excited to be back in Bath, it feels like a home from home,” she said. “It’s a really high-performance environment – we train hard, we work hard and the coaching is excellent. I’m excited to learn and rebuild my game as part of such a successful club.”
Also combining study and sport is shooter Passmore, who has started a Criminology degree at Bath and said: “I’m in halls of residence about five minutes’ walk from training and able to access the facilities full-time, which I think will really benefit me this year. It’s a whole new chapter of my life and it’s something I’m really excited for, academically and in sport.”
Another shooter looking to push on in 2021 is Welsh international Creak, who made her Superleague debut for Team Bath last season. “Going into next season, I want to focus on my core skills – ball skills, maintaining my shooting accuracy, getting in the gym and becoming stronger – and doing the basics really well, which will hopefully reflect on court.”
Also ambitious to continue her development is mid-courter Robson, who is preparing for her fourth Superleague season with Team Bath after has coming through the club’s junior ranks.
“I just love it at Team Bath,” she said. “Everyone is so supportive and nothing is a silly question, you can be open and honest and be yourself. I love working in that kind of environment. We had such a great vibe last season and I am really excited to see what we can do in 2021.”
Following Robson in progressing through Team Bath’s development pathway into the Superleague squad is wing-attack Harris, who has previously worn the Blue & Gold at U17, U19 and U21 level as well as for the University of Bath’s first team.
“I am very happy and very excited to be given this opportunity, it’s going to be amazing,” said the 21-year-old. “I intend to enjoy every moment and can’t wait to learn from some of the best players in the country.”
Fan favourite Mia Ritchie, who has spent the past 11 seasons in the Team Bath Superleague squad, is taking some time out from netball this year.
“We are fully supportive of Mia taking this time to focus on her professional and personal life and look forward to having her back in our environment in the near future,” Stembridge added.
The new Superleague season is scheduled to start in February. Visit netball.teambath.com for more information and to view full interviews with each of the Team Bath squad members.
Team Bath Netball is supported by its Principal Partner, chartered accountants Haines Watts, who are also a pathway partner, and by Rengen Developments and Centurion Chartered Financial Planners. O’Neills are Team Bath’s official kit supplier.