An injury cloud hangs over the Bajan Gems at the start of what could be a historic year for netball in Barbados.
The Gems are to face world number seven Uganda for the first time in a three-Test home netball series from March 9 to 11 before both teams head off to the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. Barbados will also play host to the IFNA World Cup Qualifiers in August.
However, injuries to captain Rhe-Ann Niles, flashy mid court player Sabreena Smith, tough defender Shanice Rock and starting goal attack Sheniqua Thomas threaten the performance of the team in order to match an impressive 2017.
Last year, the Gems scored wins over Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica to raise their world ranking to 10 in order to qualify for the Commonwealth Games.
Both Niles and Smith are expected to recover from knee injuries that have kept them away from court work in order to suit up for when the She Cranes come a calling.
But, Thomas, who suffered torn ligaments in her right knee last November, is not expected to return to action before the qualifiers in August, while Rock is also expected to miss Commonwealth.
“I feel horrible over this injury and I cried a lot, not so much over the pain but when I saw the girls training and I have to sit out netball,” Thomas said in a brief interview with NATIONSPORT.
UWI student Thomas has been a precocious netballer, making the Under-16 team as an 11-year-old Ellerton Primary student.
Since then, she has represented Combermere and Pine Hill St Barnabas while playing for Barbados at every age level.
Thomas also captained the Under-21 team to the 2017 World Cup in Botswana.
Thomas broke into the senior team at 15 years old, playing goal attack solely, and claimed that starting spot when Nikita Piggott became unavailable during last year’s engagements.
Thomas, who switched from Pine Hill St Barnabas during the 2017 season to help the UWI Blackbirds achieve double-crown glory is expected to have surgery on her knee at the end of this month.
President of the Barbados Netball Association, Nisha Craigwell, while welcoming Uganda’s positive response to Barbados’ invitation, pointed to the depth and current strength of the Gems to overcome the challenges.
“By improving our rankings we have placed ourselves in a great position where international teams in the Top 10 are more keen to play against us.
“Although our Under-21 team did not perform as expected last year, I am sure that their display in Africa would have shown Uganda what Barbados is capable of and would have prompted them to see us as a valuable warm-up to Commonwealth.
“Our coaches have been working extremely hard with the training squad and while we would love for everyone to be in contention for a play, injury is a part of any sport.
“However, we are confident that while those injured players seek to fully recover, some of the other players will use the opportunities to show Barbados some top-class netball while challenging for any vacant spots,” noted Craigwell. (KB)