No.1 Nat Medhurst fan Megan Maurice shares what the champion’s retirement means for netball fans, and why Medhurst meant so much to countless Australians.
Nat Medhurst announced her retirement on RUOK Day and I was very much not OK. It’s not that it was a shock–when your favourite player is 36 years old and has just had her first baby these things are fairly expected. But it represented the end of an era. For so long netball has been defined by Nat Medhurst for me and the realisation that I now need to redefine myself as a netball fan set in.
My identity as a Nat Medhurst fan came to me slowly–I still remember feeling incandescent with rage when she came onto the court in the last quarter of the 2007 Netball World Cup final while my favourite player at the time, Sharelle McMahon, remained on the bench. But when the two of them began establishing a combination together, which remains the most beautiful moving shooting circle to ever grace a netball court, I was sold.
Over time I grew to love everything about the way Nat played the game. The effortlessness with which she would let go of a ball at the top of the goal third to land perfectly in the goal shooters’ hands right under the post. The incredible space she found in the goal circle where no one else could. The way she drew defenders off her shooter with the impeccable timing and line of her drives into the circle.
When commentators and fans criticised her low shooting volumes without acknowledging the playmaking role she was fulfilling, I became evangelical. When she was dropped from the Australian Diamonds and then forced out of the West Coast Fever, I felt personally insulted. I realised at some point I had become a Nat Medhurst fan first and a netball fan second.
While she is a sensational netballer, for me her greatest impact has come from off the court. In a sport where everything is done in secret, her openness and honesty have been so refreshing. She has high expectations of herself, her teammates and the sport as a whole and she isn’t afraid to speak out when those high expectations are not met. She has tackled the tough issues, from the match review process to fertility and mental illness, with strength and grace.
Equally, Nat’s personality in interviews and on social media has played an important role in moving the game forwards. The warmth, humour and insight she offers at every opportunity she has to speak publicly are helping to move the sport into a space where it’s not just something to inspire young girls. Her great respect for the game and the fans means that she is willing to engage at a higher level and speak to fans as the knowledgeable and passionate supporters that they are.
Having established myself as an absolute diehard fan–to the point that I had almost as many Twitter notifications on the day of her retirement as she did–I have been fortunate enough to have many interactions with the woman herself. And I have been particularly fortunate that none of these interactions have involved her telling me to please leave her alone.
Life as an adult fangirl of women’s sport–especially one that markets itself as much to young girls as netball does–can be extremely awkward at times, but Nat’s unending kindness and patience has made me feel more welcome in the sport than I ever did before. Her warmth and the effort she makes to engage with fans from all walks of life has made her the darling of the online community known as #NetballTwitter.
At the age of 35, I’m no stranger to having my favourite players retire from a sport, but this time feels different. Part of it is the lack of closure that defined the latter part of Nat’s career. She didn’t get to retire from the Diamonds. She was pushed out of the Fever in the off-season. She couldn’t get to Queensland to finish off the season with the Collingwood Magpies.
Not many players get to experience the perfect end to their career–retiring triumphant after one final premiership or a gold medal. But for one player to experience so many stolen opportunities for one final game, a chance to say goodbye, seems unnecessarily cruel.
So as I gaze into the Nat Medhurst-less abyss of the netballing future, I’m faced with an identity crisis of sorts. Where do I fit into this sport without someone whose presence was so defining? Eventually another goal attack (it’s always a goal attack) will come along and reawaken my inner fangirl, but will she have the power, the presence, the spirit of Nat Medhurst? At this time, the best I can do is turn to the wisdom of Taylor Swift and say “I don’t know anything, but I know I miss you.”