Sport

GREEN SHOOTS FOR NETBALL

Gardening enthusiast Jenny van Dyk believes her magical mind can help the Proteas Netball bloom

Gardening enthusiast Jenny van Dyk believes her magical mind can help the Proteas Netball bloom
Jenny van Dyk is the new head coach of the SPAR Proteas. Seen here at SuperSport Studios on 28 February 2024 in Johannesburg. (Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

An appointment as Proteas coach for Jenny van Dyk has been a long time coming. The Pretoria native is itching to kickstart her tenure with the national team.

“We rise by lifting others.” This is a mantra that the newly installed coach of the Proteas women’s netball team, Jenny van Dyk, swears by.

The 42-year-old coach — a gardening enthusiast — was officially placed in the hot seat on Wednesday. Netball South Africa has tasked her with leading South Africa to their first podium placing at the Netball World Cup since the 1995 edition.

During that showpiece they managed to clinch a silver medal, after being downed by global netball heavyweights Australia in the final. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag of displays for the South Africans at the quadrennial event.

They have managed fifth spot regularly in that period. Their best performance — since that podium almost three decades ago — was when they finished in fourth place during the 2019 spectacle in England. Under the guidance of Australia’s Norma Plummer.

In 2023 — when they became the first African nation to host the World Cup — South Africa ended in a disappointing sixth place. It was their lowest placing at the tournament since 2007, when they also ended sixth.

Jenny van Dyk at SuperSport Studios on 28 February 2024 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)

Idealistic Van Dyk

In spite of that disappointing display on home soil, the new head of the Proteas team is adamant that she can again lead South Africa to a World Cup medal. A gold one at that.        

Read more in Daily Maverick: Van Dyk appointed as new Proteas coach after ‘rigorous’ process

“I’m an idealist. I’m a strategist. I’m an analyst. I dream big. That’s just what I do. Ever since I was young, I wanted to win a World Cup. It’s something I want to do,” Van Dyk told journalists, following her official unveiling.

Since the first edition in 1963, the perennial powerhouse at the tournament has been Australia. The Aussies boast a staggering 12 gold medals. Neighbours New Zealand are second, with five. Trinidad and Tobago have won it once. That’s where the list of winners ends.

Even England and Jamaica — who are regulars on the World Cup podium — have not been able to join the elite club of world champions. So, for the South Africans it will be even tougher to leapfrog that pair.

Never mind the likes of New Zealand, and the dominant Australians. Who themselves are constantly improving.

“I know it’s going to take a massive team effort. And I know it’s not going to be a straight line to get to that top performance. But it’s worth a shot,” Van Dyk stated about her ambitions for the national team.

“I’m going to do everything in my ability to get to that performance. In saying that, we know what we’re up against. Everybody around us is also not sitting back and waiting for things to happen.”

Match made in netball heaven?

In an interview with Daily Maverick at the tail-end of 2023, Netball SA president Cecilia Molokwane (who has been accused of racism and mismanagement by former employees of the federation; accusations she has denied) outlined what the perfect candidate for the Proteas job would look like.  

“Your work must follow and [speak for you]. Colour is not an issue. Where you are from is not an issue. As long as you’re a coach with credibility, who has what we need in a coach,” Molokwane said.

“[We want] a coach that thinks like No 1. Who will coach like No 1. Who will select like No 1. Who will play like No 1. Who will encourage the team like No 1. Someone who will do everything like No 1,” the president added.

Van Dyk is exactly this. The 41-year-old cemented her legacy as one of the best coaches around by clinching the semi-professional domestic Telkom Netball League five times in a row with the Gauteng Jaguars. A run that stretched from 2017 to 2021.

Before that sensational streak, Van Dyk and her Jaguars had lacked the predatory instinct to beat bitter rivals, the Crinums. Thrice losing to the Free State-based outfit in the first three finals of the competition, between 2014 and 2016.

Buzzer-beater against mighty Silver Ferns keeps Proteas in the World Cup semifinal game

Proteas captain Bongiwe Msomi and Gina Crampton of New Zealand during the Netball World Cup 2023 Pool G match between South Africa and New Zealand at CTICC. (Photo: Shaun Roy / Gallo Images / Netball World Cup 2023)

Gamechanger

That is until Pretoria-born Van Dyk received some simple, yet life-changing, words of wisdom from the coach she is replacing at the Proteas helm — Plummer.

“I’ve been following Norma Plummer for a while. The first few years that she started coaching the Proteas we were allowed to attend all their camps. I didn’t miss the opportunity to work with her,” Van Dyk told journalists.

“I remember back in the day when I was coaching the Jaguars, and we lost against the Crinums in the finals. Then I worked with Norma and she gave me two or three tips that I needed to work on with my team,” the new Proteas coach said about two-time World Cup winner Plummer.

“I went back and I applied those simple principles. Then for the next five years I found myself in that top position, winning with the Jaguars. So, over the years, I’ve learnt quite a lot from her. Not always from talking to her [but just observing how she works].”

Once a contender

Ironically, when Plummer first vacated her role as Proteas coach back in 2019, Van Dyk was a contender for the top job in South African netball. However, owing to a medical emergency, she missed her interview. With Dorette Badenhorst announced as the new coach, until her departure in 2022.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Cecilia Molokwane deflects allegations as Netball SA names CEO’s successor

“I believe that’s part of God’s plan — I literally could not make it to the interview,” said Hoërskool Oos-Moot alumna Van Dyk. “Things happen for the right reason, when they are supposed to happen. I’m ready for this job now, and I’m excited to start.”

Van Dyk starts without long-time Proteas captain Bongiwe Msomi and the colossal Phumza Maweni. The pair, with well over 200 national caps between them, announced their respective retirements in December 2023.

With the new coach having been a foot soldier for such a lengthy period in the sport, it won’t be long before new faces don the Proteas colours. DM

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