Claudia Heath is undoubtedly a talented athlete.
Her performances at wing defence have been outstanding during Grangetown’s quite remarkable debut season in Prem 1; but aged just 21 Claudia is also one of the younger members of the squad.
In fact, Claudia was a relatively late starter in netball terms: “I didn’t play netball until the end of primary school, when I was around 11 or 12. I loved all sports, and up until then I did a lot of athletics and played football too. I come from quite a sporting family; my Dad [Billy] played professional football and he is currently the manager at Alfreton Town [who play in the National League North].
“I think I was picked out to try netball because I was so tall for my age. I thought I’d give it a go and everything just happened from there really…
“I grew up in Hull and I played at a club there until I was about 14, when I joined Leeds Athletic; and I played for Leeds until I moved to Grangetown.”
That must have involved a lot of travelling?
“It did, but my parents have been brilliant. They’d take me all over the country to games and trials. They’ve always been so supportive…
“But when I left school, I went to Uni in Leeds. I love the city, and it was the place where I really wanted to go to study. Obviously that made things easier with the netball, but even though I’ve got a lot of good friends at the club, I felt it was time for a change at the end of last season…”
It was clear that Claudia was about to explain how she joined Grangetown; but that was actually the next question on my professionally-compiled list. Every time I do an interview, half of my questions seem to get answered before I get the chance to ask them; but I did the honourable thing … interrupted and asked anyway.
Claudia it’s back over to you…
“Brie [Grierson] told me about Grangetown. And I also knew Abbie [Le Brocq] from Team Northumbria, and they both spoke highly about the club, so I thought I’d come along and see for myself. Gel [Williams] was so lovely. Everyone made me feel welcome, even before I’d officially joined, so the decision to come to Grangetown was a no-brainer for me.”
Claudia has also gained international honours, having represented England at U19 and U21 levels; the highlight being a tour to Jamaica with the U19s. I was interested to know if any members of the squad had progressed into Super League: “Amy Carter is at Manchester Thunder. There’s Iona Darroch down at Severn Stars, and Amy Clinton who’s just joined Loughborough. They’re all doing really well.”
So do you have Super League ambitions of your own?
“Maybe in the future. I’m in the third year of my PE degree at the moment, and I’m going to do a Masters in social work after that, so I always knew that this year in particular was going to be really difficult; and I’d have to concentrate hard on my studies to make sure I do well. So as far as netball is concerned, whilst I’m still doing a lot of training, I wanted to make sure I had the right balance between course work and sport, but also be relaxed enough to really enjoy my netball – and that’s certainly the case with Grangetown.”
So how does a typical week look?
“Most days I’m training at seven in the morning, before doing a full day at college, then more training on an evening, either with the Uni squad, or with Grangetown on a Tuesday. This week I’ve got to go down to Cardiff for a day too, so that’s another early start. I usually get the chance to relax a bit on a Saturday, before Prem on the Sunday.
“So I don’t have a lot of spare time, but I think I’ve got the balance right, and I’m having such a great time at Grangetown!
“Like I said, everyone made me feel so welcome, and I felt part of the club right from the beginning. I’m happy with how I’m playing; I certainly don’t feel stressed out on court - in fact I’m loving every minute!”
Is wing defence your preferred position?
“I do love playing there, but for most of my career I played at goal keeper or goal defence. It just happened that there were a lot of defenders in the Uni squad, so I took the chance to try and push forward, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.
“We’re lucky at Grangetown because we’ve got so much strength in our defence; it doesn’t matter which combination is out on court, Tuaine [Keenan], Billy [Katie Walton], Jenny [Mrozik], or Gen [Slater] when she was here, they are all fantastic players, and I feel confident whoever is on court behind me.
“Of course it was a blow when we lost Gen at Christmas, but we’re all looking forward to seeing her again after she’s had her baby. A Grangetown baby … it’s so exciting!”
For some reason, wing attack seems to be a particularly strong position in the majority of Prem 1 squads, but of all the players that Claudia has faced during her time with Grangetown; does one in particular stand out?
“Yes. It was Georgia Lees, who plays for New Cambell and Mavs [Saracens Mavericks] in Super League. She was definitely the toughest opponent I’ve faced; she was so quick, and so agile; I was in awe of her really.”
If you haven’t read my report on the New Cambell game, I can confirm the young lady in question most certainly is that Georgia Lees!
Although that game ended up as a heavy defeat, there have been very few set-backs during what has been a quite remarkable season. The best news of all is now that Grangetown are mathematically safe from relegation, even Head Coach Gel Williams is confident that just one more win will guarantee survival…
But in Claudia’s opinion, what has been the squad’s best performance?
“The win away at Academy was definitely a highlight. We went down to London, a five or six hour journey, without our Super League players, to face a side that is always challenging near the top of the table – and we came away with the win.
“We worked so hard and deserved the win. The result was probably seen as a massive shock though, and maybe it made some of the other teams sit up and take notice. Obviously we’re stronger with Ash [Neal], Brie and Tuaine in the squad, any side would be, but we showed that we can perform without them; so it’s probably that performance that really stands out.”
You’ve still got to visit your former club before the end of the season; how do you look at the final few fixtures; and what are your plans going forward?
“I’m looking forward to going back to Leeds, but we’re going there for the win. We don’t just want to finish mid-table after all the work we’ve put in; we all feel that we’re capable of finishing fourth, so we’ve got to make sure we maintain our performance levels for the final few games.
“As far as next season is concerned, I definitely want to stay at Grangetown – I’ve enjoyed this season so much. I don’t know if there’ll be many changes in the squad, but even though we’ve had an amazing season, every squad will be looking to improve and that’s what we must try to do as well…”
At this point, the extremely poor phone signal was lost for the third (and final) time, and with our conversation at an end, I was absolutely certain of two things.
Claudia Heath: talented athlete … unreliable phone.