Caitlin Bassett is one of Australia’s most recognisable sportswomen. Autograph seeking crowds cluster around her at netball matches; in her home state of Western Australia she is a genuine celebrity. It is the Shirley Temple factor at work. Like the curly blonde, and Home and Away’s Kate Ritchie, she has grown up before our eyes. We’ve watched her progress from a leggy young teen playing for the Perth Orioles, to her recent Constellation Cup series against New Zealand where she was unstoppable. Although it’s been quite a journey to date, Bassett is just getting started.
Thanks to her pony-mad childhood, Bassett was a relative latecomer to the netball world. At the age of 11 she first picked up a netball, joining Southern Districts team, the Illawarra Sparks, where she played in defence until she was about 14. It was at a state identification camp that she found her natural home in the shooting circle. “I used to play at both ends. The coaches told the defenders to go to one group, middies another and shooters in yet another area. I was told I had to choose, so I went with the shooters, and never went back to defence again.”
Bassett made her first state team at the age of 14, and followed it with selection in the Perth Orioles as a 16 year old schoolgirl. The young teen made her debut against Liz Ellis, who was at the peak of her powers as a goal keeper. Bassett reminisces, “I was absolutely terrified, but also excited, because not many players get to say they played their first game against Liz.”
2008 would prove to be an important year for Bassett. She was an automatic selection for the inaugural West Coast Fever team, and was also chosen to debut for the Diamonds, although she wasn’t part of their wider squad. When Australian coach Norma Plummer phoned following an injury to the experienced Catherine Cox, Bassett’s first thought it was a practical joke. The Diamonds defeated England in Newcastle, with Bassett reminiscing, “I had no expectations what so ever of getting on court, so I was really surprised when Norma put me on for the last quarter. I was probably the most nervous I can ever remember being in a netball game. I will also never forget it because I got to debut with Laura Geitz, and that is something we will always share together.”
Selected in the World Youth Cup team in 2009, Bassett was part of an Australian outfit that dominated New Zealand in the final, winning 64 – 46. The young shooter averaged 90% throughout the tournament. Playing again for the Diamonds at the World Championships in 2011, she helped lift Australia to victory in a memorable extra-time final against New Zealand. Bassett was introduced at half time, at which point the Australians were down by a six goal margin. She says, “I didn’t think I would be playing, so when the opportunity came along I had nothing to lose. When I did get out there it seemed to come together easily. I was stoked to be able to reward the rest of the team (by shooting the last goal that won the game) because they had all been so good to me on that tour. The girls really encouraged me and helped me grow, especially Cath Cox who had spent a lot of time working with me.” Remarkably, Bassett only missed 3 goals in the entire tournament, and shot at 100% for her first five games.
Despite performing so strongly, Bassett remained in the position of being a substitute most commonly brought on at half time for the Diamonds. After Cox withdrew from the 2013 national selection camp, Bassett took on a starting seven role during the Constellation Cup later that year. “It was a fantastic experience. While it’s good to have that confidence to know that I can come on at half time or in the last quarter and perform, sometimes it’s harder actually starting and staying consistent and strong for the whole game.”
In 2014 Diamonds goal attack Natalie Medhurst joined the West Coast Fever, and she and Bassett have gone on to form one of the most potent Australian shooting combinations seen in recent years. They were an integral part of the Diamonds team that won the 2014 Commonwealth Games netball final by a record 18 goals, and remained undefeated during test series against England and New Zealand later that year. The duo proved almost impossible to stop, with a variety of combinations used against them to try and quell their influence. Bassett says she has been inspired by Medhurst’s work ethic to continually elevate her own game. “Nat is so savvy with her passes and feeds. Even with two defenders back on me I know she can get the ball to me. We have been working hard on that timing and it is still a work in progress.” Bassett went on to be short-listed for the 2014 Liz Ellis Diamond award.
Like numerous tall athletes Bassett has taken time to mature as a player, but has developed into a formidable target in goals. Always an accurate holding shooter, she is now able to withstand the buffeting of goal keepers, and has added variety to her game in the form of elevation, movement, longer range shots and the ability to pull in a high ball or rebound. Bassett describes it as a vital transition. “I am no longer just a holding shooter. The game is so physical these days I need to be able to mix up my play or I will be defeated easily. I also need to be able to move and keep the defender guessing, and open the circle up for the GA to drive to the post.” Her improvement has come on the back of years of sustained effort. “When I talk to young kids I tell them that hard work creates luck, and for me I am not a particularly strong or agile or incredibly fit player. I am someone that has to work hard constantly at trying to improve.”
When asked what she has targeted for improvement, Bassett says a heartfelt, “Everything! I am particularly focused on getting to the gym and strengthening up, using high rep (repetition) weights. Other things include my fitness, Pilates and working on my core strength. Then there are other areas on court such as my footwork and passing. In the past I have never come out of the circle much, but I am becoming more versatile. I have to keep working on my shooting. Defenders these days do a lot more to distract players, such as the recent lifts that have been used, so I need to work on maintaining focus.”
2015 proved to be a pivotal year for Bassett, a record best season with the West Coast Fever helped her become the first ANZ Championship player to shoot 600 goals in a season. This provided the perfect lead up to her second World Cup campaign where the 27-year-old became the first West Australian to surpass 50 international Test appearances. Shooting at 94% in the final she helped Australia win their third consecutive World Cup title and made history by becoming the first shooter to win the Liz Ellis Diamond.
Away from the court, Bassett maintains that she is “pretty boring.” She combines her netball with studying broadcasting and journalism and one day plans to work in sports media. Leisure time sees her at the beach, hanging out with friends, or in search of a good coffee. Bassett relishes those moments, feeling it important to stay mentally refreshed rather than being completely absorbed by netball. Wanting to commit “100%” to giving herself the opportunity to perform well, Bassett eats healthily, apart from her well-known cupcake fetish. She laughs, “Being a student I never had much money to shop away on tour. So it became a challenge to find the best cupcakes in town. It’s just something fun and keeps me distracted from thinking too much about the game.” An animal lover she recently added to her fur family which now consists of four rabbits and a Bernese Mountain Dog pup named ‘Chino’.
The Diamond’s star goal shooter firmly believes she is capable of further improvement in the 2016 season. “From here on I want really solid and consistent performances; to be able to match up on any defender and take it to them. I have to keep developing because there are so many good defenders around, who will keep challenging me. I want teams thinking they have to try and stop the ball coming into me rather than being able to shut me down.” Given Bassett’s recent form, that will be a near impossible task.
Biography written by Jenny Sinclair