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Courtney Bruce: the bashful kid who now has Sharni Layton-sized shoes to fill

Via The Guardian

They call them sliding door moments; flashes in time that shift lives. For emerging netball star Courtney Bruce the first came a decade ago, when her parents insisted she give netball another go after she dropped out of the sport due to crippling shyness and a fledgling athletics career, where she excelled at high jump.

Then, little over a fortnight ago – after Bruce was named in just her second Australian Diamonds squad, but not expected to get much, if any, court time in the upcoming Quad Series or the trans-Tasman Constellation Cup – came news that starting keeper, Sharni Layton, was withdrawing due to exhaustion.

Workload few could shoulder finally takes its toll on 'exhausted' Sharni Layton. It puts Bruce, 23, in the box seat to make her Test debut against England in the first Quad Series game in Brisbane on Saturday afternoon and get the chance to impress national coach Lisa Alexander ahead of the coveted Constellation Cup in October and next year’s Commonwealth Games.

The still-shy 189cm defender tells Guardian Australia she is acutely aware both moments have changed her life’s trajectory. At seven, Bruce followed her twin sisters into netball, but switched to athletics aged 11 and shone. She considered leaving team sport behind.

“I was really quiet, a total introvert as a kid,” she says. “At 13, my mum and dad decided to put me back into netball to try and get me out of my comfort zone, to be in that team environment and come out of my shell, and I guess it worked.”

Bruce, who was born in Gosnells, a south-eastern suburb of Perth, got a scholarship aged 16 and it has been all-netball since. She debuted for West Coast Fever in the former elite netball competition aged 19 and has now played five seasons for the Perth franchise. “Looking back, I guess netball nearly missed out on me,” she says.

While the individualistic nature of athletics appealed to Bruce as a bashful kid, it’s now the “love of team” which drives the part-time psychology student, who recently returned from working in Indigenous communities in remote WA. “I absolutely love being part of a team now, more than anything.”

Team is the first thing Bruce thinks of when asked about Layton’s shock withdrawal and her potential elevation. “I am absolutely devastated for Sharni,” she says. “I am really going to miss that advice factor and energy she brings. I guess it does [put her in the mix], but from my perspective, it’s about being a team. I know I can only perform at my best when we’re all performing and working together as a unit, so I am trying to focus on that, not anything individual.”

Although she has technically already represented Australia, in the Fast5 format – she was named Fast5 Player of the Year last year – Bruce will only be a fully-fledged Diamond when she takes the court in a Test.

“I’m super-excited about the chance to play for my country,” she says. “I’ve always been a very competitive person and since I made a decision to commit to netball, playing for the Diamonds has always been the goal. I’ve been really driven and now I’m here.

“I will definitely be nervous. I have done some visualisation stuff through my course, so I will do that, but I actually play better when I am a little nervous, with the adrenalin going though me.”

While it won’t be a shock if she takes Layton’s GK bib, hearing a big voice coming out of the usually reserved Bruce may surprise some. “I have definitely been working on having a bit more a voice and a really strong presence on the court,” she says.

Bruce, who doubled her defensive numbers year-on-year in the 2017 Super Netball season, finishing equal second for interceptions and third for deflections, is also adding another string to her bow; playing wing defence.

With the spectre of former captain Laura Geitz’s return to top flight netball – and maybe even the Commonwealth Games – Bruce knows she needs to diversify.

“I’m working on being able to play all three defensive positions. I think with her maybe coming back, that’s the best thing I can do, show I can play all three. I want to be at the Commonwealth Games, on home soil, for sure.”

 

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