Source: Mark Harris

Stembridge and Thirlby inducted into University of Bath Hall of Fame

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Anna Stembridge and Jess Thirlby, who have both made significant contributions to netball at Team Bath and internationally, have been officially inducted into the University of Bath Hall of Fame for Sport.

The duo, England Head Coaches past and present respectively, were players for Team Bath during the club’s formative years before forging an outstanding coaching partnership which saw them guide the Blue & Gold to several Super League titles and nurture the talents of some of the sport’s biggest names.

They returned to the University ahead of Friday’s Super League match against Cardiff Dragons – who Stembridge and Thirlby also represented as player and coach respectively – to join fellow netballers Stacey Francis-Bayman, Lyn Gunson, Serena Guthrie and Pamela Cookey in the Hall of Fame.

Stembridge said: “I feel extremely grateful to receive this acknowledgment. As coaches we don’t embark on the journey to get these kinds of accolades, so it is truly humbling to be recognised like this. To be recognised alongside one of my best friends is the icing on the cake.”

Thirlby added: “Thank you to the University for affording me the opportunity to sit alongside pioneers and pillars of the sporting world. To be able to work through these doors in the future with my family and represent the netball family alongside people like Anna is really special. Thank you for that privilege.”

Both paid tribute to three fellow Hall of Fame inductees – inspirational coach Gunson, former Director of Sport Ged Roddy and former Deputy Director of Sport Ali Oliver – who were fundamental to the formation of the full-time Team Bath Netball programme 25 years ago.

Thirlby, who was the first player to join the programme, said: “We were really privileged to be part of an ambitious group of players, led by people with a limitless belief of what was possible. Those things have really become part of the fabric of who I am as a person but also who I try to be as a coach.”

Stembridge added: “It was a really special time when the programme started here. There are a number of people in the room who were part of that, and it invokes a lot of emotions in myself. There was a sense of belonging and family, and the best bit of this experience was the friendships.”

Thirlby helped to establish the club’s ethos and culture during its formative years, leading up to Team Bath’s first national trophy in the 2004 Super Cup. Capped by England in every age group, she also won the inaugural Super League as a player in 2006 and then led the Blue & Gold to three more national titles after being appointed as Head Coach in 2008.

Wales international Stembridge, also a Team Bath pioneering player during the pre-Super League years, joined as Thirlby’s Assistant Coach and the duo forged an outstanding partnership, winning the title in 2009 and 2010.

Stembridge was appointed as England Head Coach in 2011 and, during the next four years, led a period of breakthroughs that saw the Roses win a first World Netball Series gold and record a first-ever series success against Australia.

The duo reignited their Team Bath coaching partnership in 2015, with Thirlby stepping up to Director of Netball and overseeing the establishment of the Team Bath Academy network across the South West of England before leaving in 2019 to take up a new challenge.

Thirlby was appointed as Vitality Roses Head Coach that summer and led England to a first-ever World Cup Final in 2023. She has since been asked to lead the team for an unprecedented second four-year cycle in the lead up to the 2027 World Cup, making her one of the longest-serving Roses coaches of all time.

Stembridge continued as Team Bath Head Coach until 2022, leading them to the Super League Grand Final in 2021 and a first British Fast5 All-Stars success, before leaving to spend more time with her young family.

Jo Vann, who worked alongside Stembridge and Thirlby as both a player and coach at Team Bath, was among the netball dignitaries who gathered at the University’s East Building on Friday – along with current Team Bath players and season-ticket holders – for the official induction, which was followed by an on-court presentation to a 1,300-strong crowd during that evening’s Super League match.

“It’s a real privilege to come here and celebrate these two incredible people,” said Vann. “I know at first hand the challenges of transitioning from player to coach but they are genuinely such amazing role models and so inspiring. Look at how many of us have tried to follow in their footsteps.

“Personally I want to thank them for their leadership, creativity and dedication to constantly thinking outside the box. Thank you so much for your advice and friendship and, most of all, for that courageous step you took 25 years ago to help put Team Bath on the map. You have left an inspiring legacy for all the athletes, coaches and fans who have gone on to enjoy the journey too.”

Stembridge and Thirlby are the 26th and 27th inductees into the Hall of Fame for Sport, which was established 10 years ago to recognise the outstanding contribution made by athletes, coaches and administrators to sport at the University of Bath and Team Bath. Find out more at teambath.com/hall-of-fame.

With thanks to the Team Bath Press Office

 

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