The world of corporate law will beckon Emily Nicholl soon enough. Drafts and deals, contracts and clauses. Its nuances have always been a passion, she confides. But why have one fervour when you might enjoy two? “The netball has all just come as a surprise,” the affable 23-year-old proclaims. “Last year, I did my diploma as well as play. And so while it was a lot, I like being busy.”
She knows there are, ultimately, limitations in time. Which is why Nicholl has postponed the beginning of her traineeship with a firm in Edinburgh until the autumn to throw everything into the twin bids of Scotland and Sirens to build a body of evidence that presents a compelling case on the court.
Progressing into next year’s World Cup through Europe’s regional qualifier last month, the national side – aka The Thistles – are currently ranked ninth in the world in a sport where the pool of participating countries is relatively shallow. It does not bode well for them troubling the medals at April’s Commonwealth Games where to see anyone other than Australia, England, New Zealand and Jamaica in the last four would be a gargantuan surprise.
However, four years on from Glasgow 2014, when the hosts came ninth out of 12 participants, there has been hefty investment, primarily through the costly establishment of a franchise in the Netball Superleague. It has raised the profile but, Nicholl argues, also helped to close the skills gap between her compatriots and the elite quartet.
“We always set ourselves targets but we absolutely smashed them last year. Against England, we were equal scores then they pulled away in the last quarter. But we’re making real steps forward and within the netball world, there’s a big buzz about Thistles because we’re taking ourselves to the next level.”
Mainly through becoming fitter than ever before, she offers, but mentally stronger in tandem. “In the past, there’s been worries that we might crumble whereas now, we have so much belief in each other and there’s complete trust there. We expect so much more of ourselves now. So even when we perform well, we pick that performance apart to see what we can improve on and I think that’s where we’ve taken steps forward.”
Nicholl admits she did not expect to be involved in this ascent. Growing up, she had no pretensions of advancement, slipping through the net of the talent scouts. “I’m from Biggar so it’s very much a rugby town and everyone always said to me that I should play rugby,” she confirms. “But I didn’t because I was always too scared of getting injured.”
She was a spectator at the Commonwealths four years ago. Never once did the idea of being involved next time around enter her thoughts. At Edinburgh University, she belatedly flourished. Then, she adds, “When I got into the Scotland team, I went into every session thinking that I was going to push myself to the limit every time. I always just wanted to be the best I could be and it’s got me here.”
Where next though? The Sirens, having lost their Superleague opener to Loughborough last week, will attempt to break their duck when they visit Manchester tomorrow. Before long, the Thistles will venture Down Under and try to live up to the not-inconsiderable hype generated by Netball Scotland. “We will have our own ways to judge ourselves,” Nicholl offers. Then, the jury can sit and the verdict arrive.
“Our main targets will be performance things like rebounds and so as long as we’re hitting those targets, we’ll play well. If we’re focusing purely on getting the win, that’s when we’ll crumble under the pressure.”