Overseas netball leagues have been looking to Africa to strengthen their teams over the last few years and it was no surprise that United Kingdom-based side Leeds Rhinos Netball grabbed young Elmerè van der Berg.
Although the North West Flames had a poor season in the Telkom Netball League, in which they only managed to win two of their 10 matches, van der Berg was one of the standout players for the side, taking several players of the match accolades throughout the season. The same spirited performance carried over to the senior national team when South Africa hosted the Africa Netball World Cup qualifiers in Pretoria.
She earned herself the Best Shooter award at the tournament, and that was easy enough for Leeds to lure her to the Netball SuperLeague in the hope that she will come in handy to help the team contest for honours for next season after having finished sixth in the 2022 season.
The Varsity Netball competition was the cherry on top, she helped the North West University to a top-two finish in which she also took the coveted player of the tournament accolade after her side took home the silver medal in the competition.
At only 21 years old, Van der Berg is about to live the dream of many netballers from around the continent, albeit her start in a more professional setting will be delayed as she will be only starting rehab following her ankle injury during the Spar Diamond Challenge. She will be playing alongside Proteas teammate Nicola Smith in the SuperLeague.
“It will be a bit later than we had planned but I am still going. They said to me, even if I come a bit later, I still need to go. I hope that when we get there we will feel at home with the team. I hope to take my netball to the next level and develop more. We are going to train hard and I am looking forward to it.
"I can’t wait. It’s a new challenge to be able to develop my netball more especially for the World Cup. When I play goal attack, I am always not sure where to run so when I come back from the UK, I want to be able to run my lines on goal attack, with confidence. To give a bit of a variation in my play and not do the same thing over and over again,” says van der Berg.
The Flames player was one of the young players who got roped into the senior team, following an exceptional contribution to the Baby Proteas squad. She says that she got welcomed into the national team with warm hands and that made her comfortable, which was crucial for her performance.
She made her debut at the 2021 Africa Cup held in Windhoek, Namibia against Zimbabwe, coming in as a substitute in the third quarter. She was one of three new caps for South Africa in the game. The Proteas came out victorious, beating the Gems 78-27.
“We had trials, it was a huge group of players that were there. When they announced the team, it was on Zoom, I was so happy to be chosen. Then we went on a tour to Ireland. You immediately feel at home in the team, it wasn’t like you feel like an outsider or anything. You feel like part of the team and everyone tries to put you on in each and everything. You feel like you are in a safe space,” she says.
She set the court ablaze at last year’s Netball Africa Cup where she earned her first cap.
“We played a lot of games then, I wasn’t that nervous. But this year, at the Commonwealth Games, the first match we played was against Jamaica and I was nervous to step out there and play. Everyone made it easy to come in and play, they put you at ease so that you don’t have a lot of nerves,” she remembers.
As the world prepares to descend on South Africa for the Netball World Cup, many players are putting their hands up in a bid to represent the country. Van der Berg understands that there is a lot of work that she will have to put in for her to get into the final 12-woman squad that will go to Cape Town for the tournament set for 28 July to 6 August at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
“It would mean the world to me. I have dreamt about it since forever. I am working hard to be in the squad and to be in the team. I think if you do your job and you deliver on what she (Norma Plummer) wants you to deliver and you’re a consistent player, I think you would impress her. If she can see your talent and you don’t want to work hard, she will not want to choose you but if you work hard with talent, she will want to work with you and develop you further to become a better player,” she says.