Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Netball NZ on hunt for height

Australian sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett has enjoyed a handy height advantage over Silver Ferns defenders for years. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.
Australian sharpshooter Caitlin Bassett has enjoyed a handy height advantage over Silver Ferns defenders for years. Photo/PHOTOSPORT.

Netball New Zealand has launched a recruitment drive unashamedly targeted at tall teens as they look to generate more height in the ranks.

The national body has embarked upon a nationwide search for young women aged 16-19 that are 1.9m or taller after identifying a lack of height coming through the age grades. The campaign, called "Hunt for Height", invites youngsters from both inside the sport and externally to sign up for the programme.

Those identified as having the necessary attributes will be given specialised coaching and support to develop in the game.

Netball NZ chief executive Jennie Wyllie said the campaign is a key initiative within the organisation's high performance strategy.

"We've been doing a lot of work on our high performance strategy and part of that is succession planning. What we have identified is that we have a bit of a gap in terms of height," said Wyllie.

"While the pathways are functioning really well and we have some incredibly talented athletes in our system, what we don't have is a lot of tall athletes coming through, or we're not retaining them in netball."

Wyllie does not expect the programme will unearth hundreds of talented teenagers previously lost to the system.

Statistics suggest only 0.6 per cent of the female population are taller than 1.9m. In raw numbers, that means about only 700 young girls will fit the criteria. Of these 700, Netball NZ estimates only 5-10 per cent of them will have the athleticism required. So statistically, there are a 28-74 potential individuals in the country.

Still, if the programme can uncover a handful of top young prospects, Wyllie believes the effort will be worth it.

The launch of Netball NZ's initiative comes as the Silver Ferns are struggling to find an answer to the dominance of 1.93m Australian supershooter Caitlin Bassett.

Bassett was again influential in the Diamonds 12-goal hammering of the Ferns in Sunday's Constellation Cup opener, landing 47/47 in her three quarters on court. With Bassett enjoying a handy height advantage over Ferns defensive duo Katrina Grant (1.85m) and Jane Watson (1.81m), the New Zealand defence at times could only stand and watch as the ball delivered into the Australian shooting circle sailed over their heads.

Netball Australia has a couple of even taller shooters waiting in the wings to replace Bassett, with Melbourne's Emma Ryde (1.95m) and Sydney youngster Kristina Brice (1.97m), who both made their ANZ Championship debut this season, considered Diamonds in the making.

- NZ Herald

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