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Commonwealth Games Preview: Laura Geitz

The Queensland Firebirds player Laura Geitz poses with their trophy following their win in the ANZ Netball championship final between the Northern Mystics from New Zealand and the Queensland Firebirds at Convention Centre in Brisbane, Sunday, May 22, 2011. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Editor
23rd July, 2014
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Since being called into the national setup at just 20, stepping up has never been a problem for Australian Diamonds captain Laura Geitz.

In late 2007 then-Diamonds coach Norma Plummer was looking to regenerate the side after a swathe of high-profile retirements, none bigger than long-term skipper and goalkeeper Liz Ellis.

As a defender who had risen to prominence as captain in her second season at the AIS Darters, Geitz immediately stood out to Plummer.

Even at such a young age the self-proclaimed country girl from Allora, a rural town on south-east Queensland’s Darling Downs, was well-acquainted with representing her country.

Three years earlier Plummer had plucked Geitz, then 17, out of her final year at Scots-PGC College to tour the United State with the Australian under-21 team.

For someone that had only begun playing competitive netball at 13, it was an impressive honour.

She made her senior international debut in 2008 and while selected for the 2010 Diamonds team that lost the gold medal game to New Zealand’s Silver Ferns at the Delhi Commonwealth Games, Geitz played only a bit-part role.

It was back at the Queensland Firebirds, where Geitz moved in 2008, that her career started to flourish and she became captain in 2011 following a season-ending injury to then-captain Lauren Nourse.

That year that the Firebirds claimed the minor premiership and went onto claim their first national championship since being formed in 1997.

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For her part, Geitz was awarded the prestigious Liz Ellis Diamond, Australian netball’s equivalent of cricket’s Allan Border Medal, that year.

Since then Geitz has been installed as the Firebirds’ regular captain, and has led the team to two more grand final appearances in three seasons.

In August last year Geitz became the second Queenslander to captain the Diamonds in over 75 years, and promptly led the national team to an emphatic 4-1 win over their trans-Tasman rivals to reclaim the Constellation Cup.

It capped what had, off the court, been a rollercoaster year in which she nearly gave the sport away.

Three months after she was married to rugby player Mark Gilbride, her father Ross suddenly passed away on the family farm in Allora and it was only on the advice of her mother that Geitz returned after a break.

“Mum encouraged me to stay in the sport, and after having a couple of weeks off, coming back seemed like the right thing to do,” she said.

“I’ve got my family, but I’ve also got my other family – the girls I play netball with – and they were a huge support for me.

“I felt like I could come back and slot in well, and I’m really glad that I did it.”

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Since that break, Geitz hasn’t missed a minute for the Firebirds and goes into the Games in some of the best form of her career.

Last year’s triumphs over New Zealand and Malawi mean the Diamonds head to Glasgow as a pronounced odds-on favourite to end a 12-year Commonwealth Games gold medal drought.

While she wasn’t a starter, Geitz was there four years ago for the double-overtime final loss to the Silver Ferns and knows what it is like to finish on the losing side.

“There’s a lot of young girls in the team that can’t even remember seeing footage of when Australia won a Commonwealth Games gold,” she said.

“A lot of us were in the extra extra-time game in Delhi where we went down by a goal, so there’s a lot of emotions. It’s definitely a monkey we want to get off our back.”

She has already declared this will be her final Commonwealth Games, and will not need any extra motivation to lead the Diamonds back onto the top of the podium.

Commonwealth Games Form
Under Geitz’s leadership the Diamonds rebounded from defeat in the opening game of last year’s Constellation Cup to rout the Silver Ferns 4-1 and went onto back it up with a 2-0 win over world number five side Malawi.

Further back, the Diamonds also claimed the 13th edition of the World Netball Championships in 2011, a year in which they also won the Constellation Cup.

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In the leadup to the Commonwealth Games the Diamonds have prepared with a six-day camp in Manchester, where they met English Superleague-winning outfit Manchester Thunder.

A largely experimental Diamonds outfit were pushed for four quarters before recording a 58-52 win that coach Lisa Alexander described as “scratchy”.

In 2014 the Firebirds, Melbourne Vixens and NSW Swifts occupied the top three spots on the ANZ Championship ladder and with two thirds of the 12-player squad coming from those teams expect the squad to hit their stride quickly.

On a personal level, Geitz led the league in intercepts and deflections in the 2014 ANZ Championship season and will prove a difficult assignment for her opposition.

Competition
Behind rugby, netball is considered the number two national sport in New Zealand and like rugby it is one of the few sports that Australia don’t enjoy ‘big brother’ status over their trans-Tasman neighbour.

When these two nations meet close contests are a given, a fact no better illustrated than by consulting their Commonwealth Games record.

Since netball was introduced at the 1998 Commonwealth Games, the Diamonds and Silver Ferns have met in all four gold medal games and are split at two wins each.

The Silver Ferns head to Glasgow having won gold at the two most recent Commonwealth Games editions, having edged the Diamonds 66-64 in a double-overtime epic.

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The attacking duo of Irene van Dyk and Maria Tutaia led the Silver Ferns on that day in Delhi, and while van Dyk has recently retired Tutaia will return as goal attack.

She’ll be joined by Cathrine Latu as goal shooter, and despite indifferent ANZ Championship form with Northern Mystics this season the 189cm Latu will prove a handful for Geitz.

England, who loom as Australia’s greatest threat in the group stage, will match this year’s ANZ Championship joint-MVP Jo Harten on Geitz.

The Diamonds will need no reminding of the quality of the English after suffering a 3-0 hiding last January, their first series whitewash in 12 years.

Another of star of the trans-Tasman competition is towering Queensland Firebirds shooter Romelda Aiken and she could be another for Geitz to contend with in the latter stages of the competition.

Why is she a ‘must watch’?
Australian sport is built around a tough, uncompromising approach to the contest, lauding those who best espouse those qualities – and Geitz is no different.

Alongside Diamonds vice-captain Belinda Chatfield in defence, Geitz is renowned for her hard-nosed, physical game and unsurprisingly it has at times made her public enemy number one across the ditch.

In a 2013 ANZ Championship game with the Firebirds, Geitz was involved in a skirmish with Silver Ferns great Donna Wilkins, sending her to the floor in a contest and later exchanging words with Wilkins after the game.

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Geitz was labelled a thug, accused of landing a “cheap shot” on Wilkins by Central Pulse coach Robyn Broughton, and became the subject of boos from a hostile crowd when she returned to New Zealand.

For her part, Geitz defended herself and suggested that Wilkins should be prepared to take what she herself dished out.

It’s statements like these that as an Australian public we love.

With the Diamonds a pronounced favourite in what is the pinnacle event on the international netballing calendar, Geitz’s nature will no doubt appeal when the competition get down to the crunch.

Fast facts
Name: Laura Geitz
Birthplace: Allora, Queensland
Age: 27
Height: 185cm
Event: Netball (Diamonds captain)
Professional Debut: 2006, AIS Darters
International Debut: 2008
Test Caps: 42
Twitter followers: 11,600
Instagram Followers: 10,450
Facebook likes: 8,450

– Along with legendary goal shooter Vicki Wilson, Geitz is just the second Queenslander to captain the national team in the last 75 years.
– Growing up, Geitz preferred swimming, athletics and hockey to netball growing up and was only drawn to netball after seeing her sister’s purple netball shoes.
– Her hometown, Allora, is also the birthplace of rugby league mastermind Wayne Bennett.
– Geitz is married to former rugby player Mark Gilbride, a back-rower who played professionally in Italy and Japan.
– Her hero is 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer.
– Off the court Geitz has her own clothing range as well as the Netball Factory sportswear business.

This article was first published on the Tenplay website here.