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Place on England under-19s' tour of Australia shows Lola Wheeler was right to choose netball over athletics

By Steve Tervet

Picking netball over cross-country running might just be the best decision Lola Wheeler has ever made.

The 18-year-old, from Gravesend, was excelling in both sports as recently as 2016.

But when it came to the crunch, netball got her vote and now Wheeler is touring Australia as part of the England under-19 squad.

Lola Wheeler during her days on the track Picture: Gary Browne
Lola Wheeler during her days on the track Picture: Gary Browne

"I grew up playing a variety of sports," she explained. "Until the last two years, I was running competitively as well as playing netball.

"My mum played netball so I took it up and I've been through all of the ranks; county, regional and the national academy.

"I also competed for Kent at inter-counties and English schools cross-country. I ran middle distance as well.

"But it got to a point where every weekend I'd have a clash. Sometimes I'd try to run and play netball but I realised that with netball, you have to have the commitment from when you're younger to get into the ranks. I decided to give that a go.

"I thought I could go further with netball. I like the team aspect and I could see the people around me doing what they were doing and wanted to see if I could challenge for that."

Wheeler, who plays for London Pulse and Dartford-based Telstars, has just finished studying for the International Baccalaureate Diploma at Dartford Grammar School for Girls.

She admitted it's been "intense" but her time management seems to be paying dividends. With an endless summer stretching before many teenagers, Wheeler is now preparing to train with and play against Australia's under-19 side in Canberra.

Lola Wheeler has forced her way into England contention
Lola Wheeler has forced her way into England contention

The tourists will be based at the Australian Institute of Sport and will get to see first-hand the mainstream status netball has Down Under.

Wheeler said: "It'll be good to see if it gets more media coverage or appreciation than it does here.

"We know how much we put in and we see a lot of the English athletes go to Australia. It seems like a whole different lifestyle and culture towards it."

England's landmark gold medal win over Australia at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast earlier this year might go some way to redressing the balance.

"Me and my Mum woke up at 4am to watch it," Wheeler recalled. "It was really good coverage and we've seen a big improvement and recognition, people appreciating the sport for what it actually is. There's more awareness of what it is and how it works.

"You see the people around you, you see what they've achieved, you see the U21 academy above you and you see where they've gone. They've moved up the ranks into seniors and they've had opportunities to either go to Australia.

"Maybe one day our league will improve a lot more so we can attract more international players. It's good to see how it's changed and what can happen to netball and what you can achieve through it."

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