Ellina Mhlanga in LIVERPOOL, England
IT may have taken a while for many to realise the potential and strides that have been made by netball as a sport code despite various challenges that have over the years continued to threaten the steady progress the game has been making.
However, the Gems’ qualification for the 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup that gets underway on Friday here may be a turning point if Zimbabwe can build from the interest that has been generated by the senior national team’s achievement.
The Gems are making their final touches ahead of the competition and will be in action on the first day of the tournament at the M&S Bank Arena.
And with Zimbabweans from all walks of life showing a lot of interest in the team, the players feel challenged to go an extra-mile when they represent their country.
Vice captain Felistus Kwangwa said they appreciate the support they have received since they got here.
“The people from this side, they are so amazing. It’s like we are just at home. They have been very supportive and I know on the day of the game they will be flooding the games venue.
“We are enjoying being here but we have not forgotten that we are here for a competition. Of course, we are still trying to adjust but we are almost there. And what I can say is the girls are very happy and I think they will bring out some good results,” said Kwangwa.
On Sunday, Zimbabweans based in Manchester hosted the team for a treat and the Gems also had an exhibition match to the delight of their fans who came to meet the team.
One of the senior players in the team Ndaizivei Madzikangava said the support has been encouraging.
“As someone who has been playing for the senior national team for sometime now, we are promising fireworks on Friday and I hope we are going to give our best.
“We want to try and make the people who have welcomed us here happy, we feel appreciated. We are promising them that we are working hard and the support has been really motivating. We didn’t expect this and I can say morale is high. We are going to compete, come Friday,” said Madzikangava.
The Gems, as the Zimbabwe senior national netball team is affectionately known, have surely found a place in the hearts of many Zimbabweans back home and abroad.
Their World Cup appearance has brought in some positives and appreciation that usually lack when it comes to women in sport.
And it has been encouraging to see Zimbabweans from different backgrounds coming together to give the needed support at this stage. Captain Perpetua Siyachitema saluted the fans for their support and feels they need to return the favour by representing the country to the best of their abilities.
“I think the support here is so massive, it’s so huge. I wasn’t really like expecting this and the Zimbabweans here, they are so loving, they are so good and they are really supporting us. It’s really motivating the girls.
“We would like to return the favour by winning especially the first game because they will be there in numbers. So we just want to put smiles on their faces. We are going to win this game and we are going to win it for them,” said Siyachitema.
Their first Group A match is against Sri Lanka on Friday in the preliminaries stage one. Seasoned goal-shooter Pauline Jani said they are pleased with the way things have gone so far.
“First I would like to thank the supporters from this side, who are supporting us and we want to thank them. Everything is well and we are really excited. But I also want to say we have to focus on our game on Friday.
“We are getting used to the indoor court, so far so good,” said Jani.