Western Cape Southern Sting goal shooter, Nichole Taljaard didn’t picture her national career taking off the way it has recently. Although she was named in the President’s XII team that took part in the Spar Challenge last March, she says this is not how she thought her senior career would go.
Taljaard started representing the country at the age of 17. However, she missed out on the chance to represent South Africa with the Baby Proteas after she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury which saw her miss the Netball World Youth Cup. The 25-year-old, who had been in several training and selection camps with the senior team, was thrilled to make part of the 15 players who would head to Wales for a warm-up test ahead of the Commonwealth Games. Furthermore, earned her first Spar Proteas cap.
“I didn’t initially make the 12 (player-squad) for the Commonwealths, I just made the 15 to Wales which for me was a really much bigger step than I had planned to make after only just making the Proteas squad for the first time,” says Taljaard.
Experienced Proteas goal shooter, Lenize Potgieter was declared medically unfit for the Games in Birmingham, and this opened the door for the Maties captain to get an opportunity to play in her first big tournament.
“I was pulled up two days before the tournament and I was able to experience the entire Commonwealth Games and got some court time. It was honestly so amazing. I think it was the most support I have ever felt in my netball career. I have always felt like every player and coach I have played for wanted the best of me but I think the team knew that I hadn’t experienced anything like that," she said.
"The first time I took to court (in Birmingham), Bongi (Bongiwe Msomi) and the rest of the leadership made such a big affair that they made me feel so welcome. They let me experience the entire tournament as a whole, and they supported me on and off the court. That was extremely cool knowing that in such a situation where I was absolutely terrified, I had so much support around me from the coaching staff to the players,” she remembers.
A new challenge now awaits her, the Fast5. Taljaard had initially thought she would represent the country at the quicker and shorter version of the sport before earning her first Proteas cap.
“Going to another tournament is such an honour. I think any single chance a person gets to put on the green and gold and represent the country is an amazing milestone. I can never wipe the smile on my face when I have the green and gold dress on or sing the national anthem. I think being able to represent my country again is such a great experience. I don’t think, in my wildest dreams, all of this would have happened so fast, Playing for the Proteas and being selected for the Fast5, being able to get the chance to play for both in one year.
"I think I actually planned on playing Fast5 before sevens because the players we have in the Proteas team are so amazing and because it’s such a different type of netball. But I am looking forward to putting on the dress, no matter what colour it’s going to be as long as it has the country’s badge. I can’t find the right words that can explain the type of pride I have for playing for my country,” she says.
Being part of coach Martha Mosoahle-Samm's squad that will travel to New Zealand for the Fast5 World Series is something that she is looking forward to as she enjoys being up and down the court.
“I don’t think it will be too difficult to switch because on the court I like to play with space. I like a more open court. I think the Fast5 will give me a chance to use more long balls and use the space better on the court. I think the only thing that could be challenging is the longer shot because in sevens netball, you only sink the ball when you are as close as possible to sink the shot, whereas taking the longer shots, the chances of missing go up a little bit more because of the range. But I’m hoping with the tournaments I have played so far, I haven’t been sticking so close just for short shots. I usually take them from a variety of spots around the circles but it’s going to be exciting to have a bit more freedom on court,” she says.
2022 seems like Taljaard’s winning season. Another feather she would like to put in her hat is the Varsity Netball title. After five matches, the Zanele Mdodana-led side is sitting on top of the table, having won all their matches so far. This being her last year being able to take part in the competition, Taljaard says she would like to bag this title as the team did earlier this year, when they walked away champions of University Sport South Africa.
“This is my seventh year playing for the university where I, unfortunately, haven’t been unable to win a gold medal as I wasn’t around when the team won at Ussa. But it’s something that we have been building towards, we have played in three finals now where we have missed it by two to three points, Taljaard added.
"We have learned a lot of lessons from those losses and we are hoping to take those lessons and make it a win this year. So much has gone into this tournament and we have a lot of pressure on our shoulders, there are a lot of expectations for us to perform but we take it game for game. We want this as much as any other team. It would be so amazing to win,” she says.