A NETBALL season like no other will contain an additional twist for Claire Maxwell. The Scotland captain will be on the sidelines rather on the court when Strathclyde Sirens get their Vitality Superleague campaign underway today.
Maxwell is expecting her first child in April so won’t play this season, instead pouring all her energies into her second year as assistant to head coach Lesley MacDonald.
To mitigate coronavirus risk, all matches will take place behind closed doors at two separate locations, with Sirens based in Wakefield for the first half of the season. That means an eight-hour round trip most weekends but Maxwell (nee Brownie) plans on making that journey with the squad right up until her baby arrives.
“I’ve been very fortunate with the pregnancy so far so I can’t complain too much,” says the 32 year-old, who is also still juggling her additional commitments as a PE teacher. “It was quite demanding at the start of last season trying to combine playing with a new coaching role so it’s been nice just concentrating on the coaching side of things.
“It’s allowed me to really invest in the squad without having to worry about my own form or fitness. My plan is to stay with the team for the first half of the season and then wait to see what happens inthe second after the baby arrives.
“All our games at the start are in Wakefield which is a four-hour drive so the travel shouldn’t be too bad. All being well I’ll be at every game until the start of April and I’m really looking forward to it.”
In a normal season Sirens would be preparing for home games at the Emirates in Glasgow in front of a 1000-strong crowd. Any disappointment at having to instead travel to Yorkshire – and occasionally London – is partially offset by the news that every match will be shown live on Sky Sports or streamed online, allowing the Sirens fanbase to still follow how their favourites are getting on.
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“It’s going to be a different season for so many reasons,” adds Maxwell. “We’re gutted that we can’t play at Emirates Arena as our fans always give us great support. Our last game in March was at home and we won that one and the atmosphere was incredible.
“But the fact that every game this season is going to be televised or on live streams is brilliant for our sport and much needed in these times.
“We know that we’re in a very privileged position to get on court this year given what is happening in the world. It’s a sign of hope that netball is on the rise again.
“We’re the fortunate ones at this time but hopefully it creates the pathway for the younger ones to get back playing soon as well.”
Only three matches were possible last season before lockdown descended and the league was declared null and void in May.
That has meant a long period of ticking over for the Sirens squad who are now bursting to be back playing competitive netball again after an 11-month absence.
“We couldn’t train together for a long period of time in the first lockdown so it was just at-home training for a while,” she adds. “And we would have Zoom sessions at least once a week to keep in contact.
“But we’ve been really fortunate that since September we have been able to train by sticking to all the Return to Play protocols. And since November we’ve been able to do more full-on sessions.
“The girls are now just buzzing to get on court. It’s been the longest pre-season ever! It’s hard to predict how the league will go given all the uncertainty but we know how much work the girls have put in to reach this point.”
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Maxwell is, understandably, not making any firm plans beyond April, a wise move for any first-time parent.
But, all being well, the Aberdonian hopes to return in a playing capacity next season and hasn’t ruled out the possibility of making a third Commonwealth Games appearance either.
“Bringing a new baby into the world will have its challenges I’m sure and you don’t know how your body will react,” she admits. “But I’ve still been training throughout and it would be nice to return next year for Sirens and in a Scotland dress as well.
“I love netball and it’s a thrill to be still coaching. And if I get a chance to return on the court that would be brilliant too.
“Representing Scotland in the Commonwealth Games has been the most enjoyable experiences of my career so if I could do that again it would be a real honour.”