Ash Barty’s historic Australian Open victory has plenty in common with the Vitality Netball Superleague, believes new London Pulse star Tayla Honey.
The Melbourne-born mid-courter is one of five new additions to the capital’s top-flight side, and was in raptures as she watched her 25-year-old compatriot end Australia’s 44-year-old wait for a homegrown singles winner at the season-opening Grand Slam.
And Honey, who grew up in awe of her mother, former Australian Diamond Di, was quick to agree that, despite exponential progress in recent years, little girls will forever be searching for female athlete’s footsteps to follow.
“I was sitting on my phone watching the scores change,” she recalled.
“Obviously Ash Barty, she’s such an icon for not only tennis but women’s sport in general, and I think she’s just an incredible person as well.
“It’s always great to have a role model and someone to look up to and see how they conduct themselves and deal with their successes. Not only that, but their losses and the hardships in life, and it’s great to have an example of what to do and what it looks like when those things happen.
“I think for me it’s being able to see someone so gracious in defeat and so humble when they win.”
Walk into any VNSL venue and you’re immediately met with an overwhelming array of potential idols.
Severn Stars boast five mothers with 17 children between them, while Manchester Thunder’s Joyce Mvula, who scored the second-most goals in 2021, spent the off-season spearheading talent development camps in her native Malawi.
And if you’re searching for an example of resilience, look no further than Honey’s teammate Funmi Fadoju, 19, who earned her maiden call-up to the Vitality Roses in November only to find herself ineligible for selection weeks later, sidelined by an injury.
Pulse are the only VNSL squad who played anything resembling a home game in the 2021 season, when Covid considerations resulted in matches being played in just two venues, Yorkshire’s Studio 001 and Pulse’s HQ at London’s Copper Box Arena.
But fans were only able to return for the final four rounds of the 20-stage regular season, with Pulse’s eighth-place finish landing them four places out of a trip to Finals Weekend, also staged at the East London venue.
It’s why Fadoju lit up when asked about the return to the home-and-away format—and full-capacity crowds—for 2022.
“It’s just amazing to be able to have the fans back and get people back to support us,” gushed the Dagenham defender hailed as a future England star.
“Just the crowd, the energy, I’m really looking forward to it and I just can’t wait.”
Fans will be able to watch a record number of matches across Sky Sports platforms this season, but Fadoju argued nothing compares to witnessing the exciting young squad in Stratford.
In fact Honey, at the ripe age of 24, will be the second oldest player on a Pulse squad awash with up-and-coming talent.
Fadoju, who led the league with 84 deflections, aims to put in another table-topping performance this season—she knows England head coach Jess Thirlby will be watching closely as she finalises her selections for the Vitality Roses squad who will defend their 2018 Commonwealth Games title in Birmingham this summer.
Fadoju said: “There’s more intensity watching live. You’ll get in there, you’ll hear the crowd screaming, cheering, you can actually hear it live and it’s just amazing.
“I definitely recommend coming to watch us. Coming to our home games and just seeing us play, it’s just a whole different experience.”
Besides, for anyone who has chosen Fadoju as their role model in the VNSL, a league which has long prided itself on accessibility and interaction, there might be an extra incentive.
“You might even get some pictures at the end of it,” she teased. “You never know.”
Manchester Thunder get their 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague campaign underway on 5 February. Buy your tickets to the Season Opener and to their home matches here: https://www.netballsl.com/tickets/