One of the rising stars of the Collingwood Magpies, Mel Bragg, sat down with us to speak about her very long journey to the big time.
Mel’s journey started down her hometown of Werribee in Melbourne’s western suburbs playing in what is now known as the Wyndham Netball association
“I first started playing netball when I was about, about 12," Mel grins.
“I actually just played because a couple of my friends play. I used to watch my sister play, she was younger than me and she'd always played and then the coach said come along and play, it'll be fun.”
After a few years playing in Werribee, Mel took the next step in her netball journey, traveling to Melbourne to play netball, where she started to get noticed.
“I made the zone academy which is like the regional academy when I was about a 15 or 16 and then started playing in the Victorian State League, then made my first state team when I was 19.”
Mel didn’t get into the state team straight away, but with lots of hard work, she was able to eventually able to land herself a spot.
“I trialled when I was under 17s and didn’t get in, then made my first one quite late. It was at that time that I went across to Geelong in the VNL, so that was sort of a step in my netball pathway.
"From there I played two years in the 21s state team. And those two years that I played 21s I also played for the Vic Fury, in the show netball league.”
After winning the Grand Final with the Fury in 2015, Mel wasn’t selected in any teams for a few years so there was a pause in Mel’s netball journey, so she started to pursue her other career.
“I didn't get selected for quite a number of years so I started to question whether netball was something that I was going to be able to pursue as an elite, or as a career, or whether I had to focus on my other career as a teacher.
"So it was that same type of time frame where I didn't make a team, I also had just finished university so I started working full time as a teacher and just kept playing for Geelong in the VNL.”
At the end of 2017, Mel was rather suddenly offered a spot on Collingwood’s list as a training partner for the 2018 season and she then made her Super Netball debut against the NSW Swifts.
Due to injuries in the Magpies line up, Mel was offered to be in the Magpies' squad of ten for game day. Persistence had paid off, and everything had fallen into place.
“I was just very happy sitting on the bench…just absolutely ecstatic really to just be there on game day…
"When they were like 'Mel, you're going on', I was like '...really?' I sort of turned around to see if there was another Mel.
“Honestly, I didn't really expect to be going on. I mean, I had some tough opposition to play in the Swifts so I was up against Helen Housby as well so that was quite intimidating but I had a Ash Braz in wing defence and Sharni Layton was behind me in goalkeeper so that was a bit more reassuring knowing that I had those two girls there with experience, and, you know, help me along but I just remember being very loud and I remember being very nervous I've never felt anything like that before.
Mel was then offered a position on the Magpies playing roster for 2020, with a lot of hard work and dedication going into it there have been a lot of mentors for Mel along the way that helped her believe that she could get to the highest level.
“You know, I doubted that I could make netball at this level. So, a couple of those are Bec Faullman. She was my very first coach at Geelong. And then she stepped away after one year in Gerard Murphy took over and those two have been absolutely instrumental in keeping me, I suppose accountable, but also making me believe that I can get to this level.”
There was one other mentor for Mel, along her netball journey but isn’t as well known in netball circles.
“His name is Darren and he is a coach of an association in Melbourne, he hasn’t coached at a high level but has always just been someone I've been able to call. You know, he's very honest he doesn't sugar coat anything.”
Due to Covid-19, Mel’s first season in Suncorp super netball hasn’t gone as planned, Mel and the Collingwood team has moved up to the Sunshine Coast to keep the season alive.
“We know that we're in a very lucky situation. Sometimes it's quite hard thinking to your family and your friends back home because you know we've got a reasonable amount of freedom up here and while they're in stage four lockdown…. We’re a young team in terms of our experience together. We've had quite a big turnaround of players. This season so to get to know each other better and we're spending a lot of time together, which has been great, and I think that that helps building connections on the court. But yeah, we're just really grateful to be here, to be honest."
Due to the nature of this season and COVID-19, there has been a quick turnaround between games
"We played the Sunday in the Tuesday, so that was quite interesting. I think just knowing now that there is going to be such a short turnaround in all of the games, it's about us prepping our bodies, the best way that we can so you're sleeping properly, getting enough sleep, recovering well so they're doing all of those, you know, things that you probably take for granted like ice baths and stretching and going out for a walk and little things like that.
"Things that you probably don't that you emphasise in a normal season but now with such a tight turnaround, you really have to focus on those things."