By Kasey Symons
New Adelaide Thunderbird Samantha Gooden flew her new coop to head back home to Melbourne when the 2020 Super Netball season was postponed.
“I’ve actually come home. I’m originally from Melbourne, so as soon as I found out that the season was going to be postponed, and the gyms closed, I actually drove back home so I could just be with my family instead of being by myself in my little apartment. I’m from a big family so I thought it’d be better to spend isolation with them.”
Gooden made her Suncorp Super Netball debut in 2017 with Collingwood and in 2018 was a permanent replacement player with the Melbourne Vixens, before going back to the Magpies as a training partner. The move to Adelaide after the call came from the Thunderbirds was just as fast as her decision to return home during the pandemic.
“It all happened quite quickly. Because I was a permanent replacement player, I wasn’t picked up at the usual time of contracting, so I originally got the call I think in December and I had to make a decision pretty quick. And last year, I sort of had taken a step back from netball to pursue a bit of a career, but then I chose to take the opportunity to go Adelaide.
“I quickly found some furniture to take with me and [found] an apartment, and then I drove up with my dad and my boyfriend and my little brother and sister came up and helped me unpack that day and then I was pretty much into it a week later. I only knew a couple of the girls from under-age sort of stuff, but I felt very welcomed.”
The move to Adelaide was a big step for Gooden.
“Last year, I was a training partner with Collingwood, was still definitely in the netball environment, but I was putting my focus into other things as well. So when the offer came around, originally, I wasn’t actually quite sure what I would do. I did have to think about it. But then I thought, these opportunities [are] once in a lifetime, and I had never moved away from Melbourne before, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to get out as well and experience living by myself and all that it had to offer. So I did have to think about it, as you do with every decision, but I was very excited to have accepted. I was grateful for the opportunity.”
The Melburnian was enjoying the change, loving Adelaide’s different style, her new teammates and slower rush hours.
“I love Adelaide, it’s a very different environment. Just being such a small town compared to Melbourne, I suppose, where it used to take me an hour and a half to get to training, living in Mornington Peninsula, but now the quick eight-minute drive to training is definitely welcome, I love that! But yeah, it’s a really, really lovely environment, being with a very supportive group.”
“The girls really work hard and push each other in every aspect so that was nice. It’s always positive, there’s no negativity so it’s not only a really good, hard-working environment, but a really fun, positive environment to be in.”
Gooden felt like she was making up pace with the Thunderbirds despite the late call up, thanks in part to the training she’d been able to do with the Magpies.
“Because I had been doing something with Collingwood, I wasn’t too far behind when I arrived in Adelaide, and I could sort of keep up with everyone. But coming in late always has its disadvantages because everyone’s been training, but in this instance, Adelaide Thunderbirds preseason started later anyway, so I really didn’t miss too much at all, which was good to know that you’re not out of the loop too much or letting your teammates down. So yeah, I was okay in that sense, because I had been lucky enough to be doing some training with Collingwood prior to going up there.
“I just love netball because of the connections that you make. I think that’s always been my favourite part about it is the friends that you make, so and getting to meet new people and how everyone’s so different, but we all have the same goal of working together and, and hopefully winning a Premiership at the end of the year.”
But as the coronavirus caused the world to shut down, Gooden left behind her new city and new teammates for the comforts of home amidst the crisis.
“I thought I would definitely be better off coming home. I’m new to Adelaide, all I know is the netball girls, so just being able to come home, and even just in relation to gym equipment and stuff at home, I have access to a garage gym, whereas in the apartment I had a yoga mat and that was about it, so having access to stuff to be able to keep fit as well is good. I’m very grateful to have my room still here. So that’s lucky!”
Gooden credits the closeness of her family as one of the reasons for spending this time with them but reveals the strangeness the situation creates.
“We’re all pretty close. So that’s good. It is a bit strange because I have a younger brother and sister still in high school so they’re doing home-schooling at the moment and that is a bit strange, seeing them here all the time in the room studying, it’s just different, but it’s nice to be able to do it with them.”
It’s difficult to think back to before COVID-19 significantly changed the course of the world. Earlier this year, Gooden and the Thunderbirds were not only training in preparation for the 2020 Super Netball season, but also doing what they could to support those affected by the bushfire disaster.
“2020 hasn’t been the greatest year has it?
“But the beauty of sport is that everyone comes together and I think, if I wasn’t a part of his sporting community, for example, like when the bushfires happened, I probably wouldn’t know how I could help or what I could do to make me feel like I was actually doing something for anyone. Here in Adelaide we had our own bushfire relief game and Priceline Stadium was packed out, so that was a special little preseason thing where all the money raised went to bushfire relief and that was really special as well to be a part of.”
For athletes in team sports now in isolation, training has been especially difficult. As restrictions slowly lift, being able to have back some sort of replication of team is proving to be a valued relief.
“When you’re forced to not be with anyone and train by yourself, you really start to appreciate how wonderful being a part of a team is. I don’t worry about what [the coronavirus] might do or anything like that. I think it will make everyone come back stronger with bigger drive than they’ve already had. I think when everything is back, and that’s every sport out there, it will make everyone—fans, supporters, people who maybe haven’t had an interest in sport as much—get more involved. And I think it will be a great thing when it’s all back up and running.”
As the weeks of the postponed season pass and we look forward to the Super Netball being able to restart as soon as it’s safe, Gooden reflects on her time watching on as a youngster.
“Yes, it is a bit sad to think we would be out there playing. Yeah, it makes you think about how much of an impact you actually have on other people in the community, like when I was a kid, my favourite thing was watching. When I was a kid, I played basketball, netball and volleyball. So everything I love was sport related. I’ve always loved turning on the TV or going to watch a match. So it makes me think about little kids that just want to be out there playing themselves and watching, you know, sport is a big part of the world that’s missing that we’re so used to.”
For now, Gooden is maintaining her individual training and exercise program and taking advantage of being able to watch some Netflix and rekindle an old passion.
“I haven’t really watched anything sport-ish—I’m going to go watch that Michael Jordan documentary. I love the flashbacks on Facebook groups and netball pages of old games and stuff like that and it’s pretty good to look at and see teams coming up with weekly challenges there to keep the positivity around. I’m loving watching some Netflix series. I’m a bit hooked on Ozarks.
“I’m also a Sims addict. I’ve loved that game since I was a kid so that’s definitely come out a little bit since going into isolation!”
But Gooden, like her teammates and all netball fans are looking forward to getting back to business, and for Samantha, that means jumping back in the car and back to Adelaide to be back with her netball family.
“I think, not just netball, but every sport will be feeling the impact of what it means to be back out there and what it means for the community and everyone else as well, not just ourselves.”