The Malta netball Open National Team will be heading to Gibraltar this week to take part in the Netball Europe Open Challenge from Thursday to Sunday.
This will be the next step in the Malta Netball Association’s plans to return to the sport’s ranking system after having missed out on competition for a number of years, and pits them against the Isle of Man, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and hosts Gibraltar.
The team, lead by head coach Mariella Baldacchino and assistant coach Helga Turban, will be looking to make up for the disappointment of this very tournament being postponed six months ago.
“The team has faced many challenges brought on by the COVID-19 restrictions, from not being able to train together, to online training sessions, to training in ‘bubbles’; and then the disappointment that the open tournament was postponed for six months,” Baldacchino told the Times of Malta.
“The players’ display of resilience and dedication throughout these difficulties are clear an indication of their desire to represent Malta to the best of their abilities. The players’ technical skills and fitness levels are progressing each session. With just a few days to go, each player knows the place, to be able to perform at their best for the Open Challenge Tournament this October.”
The Coaching Staff will also have Dr Adele Muscat, a renowned Maltese sports psychologist, at their disposal to ensure that the players’ mental preparation is as good as their fitness.
“This is key as the Open national team has not competed for over five years. In an effort to replicate the pressure faced in a tournament setting, we included two weekend training camps and participated in the European Week of Sport as part of our preparation, where we played games in pressure environments against the local teams and the league umpires gave the time,” Turban said.
Asked about selection, Baldacchino emphasized the difficulty when cutting the squad to fit the 12-player contingent.
“Selection is never an easy process. We started with a group of more than 30 players and over the past few months, we went down to a final squad of 12,” she said.
“I’m grateful to all the players who gave their time and effort while training with the squad. There will be plenty of other opportunities to win a place in the national team.”
With the tournament taking place amidst a global pandemic – and it being one of the very few large-scale events taking place in Gibraltar – protocol has been strict and team manager Antoinette Corby stressed that the team has been in line with all procedure in terms of COVID-19 safety.
“We have followed all the COVID protocols whilst training and for the tournament all players, coaches and management have to be fully vaccinated to be able to participate,” Corby said.
“Netball Europe, in collaboration with the host country Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Netball Association, carried out a risk assessment where several protocols and procedures have been established with regards to travel to venue, accommodation and meals, where are all in a contained environment to safeguard the safety of all concerned and lower the risks.”
Asked about the recent changes to Malta’s association, which saw a total revamp in the running of the organisation, Corby said this has been beneficial to the team.
“The changes are of great benefit to the team. The committee have been working hard to make sure the National Team has everything it needs to train and compete,” she explained.
“Great thanks to all members of the Executive Committee and volunteers who form part of the netball association, all the umpires and support staff. Without these talented people, the Open National Team would not be in a position to compete.”
Corinne Lagana, Nadya Turban, Jana Pace Cocks, Clara Grech, Tamara Vella, Martina Cauchi, Maureen Camilleri, Sabrina Abugrin, Yasmine Abugrin, Karinzia Buttigieg, Lucretia Hili, Marija Cremona.