From being a training partner on the fringe to celebrating premiership glory, Tayla Williams has experienced it all, and is now preparing for her next challenge.
Despite growing up in regional South Australia, where sport is the heartbeat of every country town, netball wasn’t always on the cards for Tayla Williams.
Hailing from the small town of Balaklava, nestled on the Wakefield River, Williams’ family all played the sport.
Though the talented midcourter was content to sit on the sidelines and initially had little interest in picking up a netball.
But her competitive nature eventually got the better of her, and she simply had to give it a go.
Once she was old enough to join one of her local teams, she hit the court for the first time.
From there she blossomed into one of the best up-and-coming midcourters in the country, and, now the Suncorp Super Netball Premiership player is on the verge of making her Fast5 debut.
Here Williams speaks from her humble beginnings to her rapid rise to one of the nation’s elite.
Like most professional athletes, Williams has experienced the huge highs and the soul crushing lows that come with elite sport.
She worked her way through the South Australian pathway before moving to the big smoke at just 17 to chase her dream of playing in the world’s best netball league.
In 2020 as the world grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic, Williams made her Suncorp Super Netball debut.
The beneficiary of a new rule which allowed clubs to have 12 contracted players rather than 10, which was designed to help with the challenges of the pandemic.
But a year later, the elation of making her debut was met with the heartbreaking news that she wouldn’t be offered a contract for season 2021 with the clubs only allowed to contract 10 players.
“Not getting the opportunity to really play was pretty difficult,” she said.
“You want to be able to play to prove you deserve to be there but only really ever get to do that in the training environment if you're not actually playing on the weekend. Looking back at that it was quite difficult.”
Despite that challenge, it was the years prior to her debut that Williams recalls as the hardest.
Throughout 2018 and 2019 Williams was plagued by an articular cartilage injury that kept her sidelined and threatened to derail her dreams. “It was a pretty big injury that didn’t go to plan rehab wise.
It caused a lot of bone bruising and issues with my bones, but articular cartilage damage doesn’t have a clear cut ‘this is how long it's going to be until you can play’ timeframe which was difficult,” she said.
“It wasn't like an ACL, that has certain stages or milestone to hit, it was waiting for the bone bruising to go down and that took a really long time to come back from and I never really knew what level of netball I was going to be able to play again.”
Determined to prove to herself that she could return to the highest level, Williams won gold at the 2019 National Championships in South Australia's under 19s team and played for the Southern Force in the Australian Netball League which paved the path for her future successes.
Having worked through the pain of her setbacks Williams has come out the other side with her name forever etched in the history books as a Suncorp Super Netball premiership player.
Months on from the Adelaide Thunderbirds’ thrilling extra time win in this year’s grand final the midcourter confessed, she still hasn’t watched the game.
“Part of me still thinks it didn't actually happen,” she said.
“It was a long time coming... we didn’t have the expectation that we were going to win it, our goal to start with was making finals.”
Williams further reflected on the team’s whirlwind finish to the 2023 season and the emotional rollercoaster that came with it.
“We thought we were going to finish third and then suddenly we finished second and all of a sudden we won that game and were going straight to the grand final, everything changed quickly,” she said.
“That's ultimately what you play netball for, the ultimate team success.
And to be able to have that with that group of girls (given) we’re all quite young and a lot of the girls came through the pathway with me as well as some incredible internationals it was such a surreal feeling and experience.”
Despite being a reserve athlete for Australia’s Fast5 team last year, Williams was shocked to get the call from Netball Australia’s Executive Manager of Performance Stacey West.
“I didn’t have Stacey's number, so it was just another random number calling I wasn't going to answer it but then underneath the number it said ‘maybe Stacey West’ and I was like the phone’s probably just got it wrong,” she said.
“I answered it, was very excited and very shocked it was Stacey.
I was in the squad last year but didn't expect to be again and being in the actual team that phone call was all a bit of a blur.”
Reflecting on last years’ experience Williams recalls the amount of research she did heading into the tournament even as a reserve.
“Last year going into it, the tournament hadn't happened for a while and there weren’t many of us who had played Fast5 before,” she said.
“We did a lot of research and working out tactics for the group, so to come back this year with more of an understanding of the game and after watching the girls last year and seeing how well they did makes it a bit more comfortable.”
As a midcourter, Williams is up for the challenge of playing without the support of a wing attack and a wing defence.
“You step in the centre pass and you normally have four options to choose from, but you've only got two in Fast5 so it's very different but I like the fact that you've got a bit more space and can open up the court a little bit more with having less people,” Williams said.
Williams is excited to soak in the Fast5 atmosphere when she heads to Christchurch but still has her sights set on retaining Australia’s crown.
“It's a lot more fun and good vibes from the fan engagement to the celebrations. I’m most looking forward to the enjoyment element,” she said.
“Obviously, we want to win but getting to experience international netball with some different people and a really good group of girls as well as with different coaches is going to be a really good experience.”
With Williams primed for her first opportunity to represent the nation she’s looking forward to experiencing the rivalry with New Zealand.
“Looking at New Zealand's team and Grace Nweke is in there, subject to fitness.
Obviously in centre I don’t have to play on her but that will be a big challenge,” she said.
Looking towards the future Williams is excited at the prospect of competing in more events like Fast5 and hopes that one day she’ll be able to call herself an Origin Australian Diamond.
“I want to maintain the level of success I've been able to achieve with the Thunderbirds this year and continue to be successful.
Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to play in some more of these Fast5 events as well,” she said.
“Wearing the Origin Diamonds green and gold would be incredible I’d absolutely love to whether that's realistic or not, I'm not sure so for now I’ll stick to Fast5 and if it happens, it happens.”