Melissa Bessell and Severn Stars set sights on Superleague Grand Final
"I've told the girls that we're going for the final. I'm not going top four, I don't want to be a cop out and be safe. I want it to be known that this is what we're going for"
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 22/12/19 11:13am
In elite sport, often teams' visions and goals are kept under wraps. Of course, they will be widely known and talked about within the confines of clubs' training bases, but they don't always venture out. This is not the case when it comes to Severn Stars...
New Zealander Melissa Bessell has arrived to lead the franchise as their new head coach and has brought with her a fierce determination to succeed and a direct, focused approach to doing so.
Bessell expects excellence from her players. She challenges them constantly and practices what she preaches too, taking on the challenge of doing a Masters Degree in Performance Sport alongside her full-time head coach role at Stars.
The Kiwi has not been in a head coach role for around five years, many will remember her most recent position as London Pulse's assistant coach last year, but now she's "excited and ready" to step back into the spotlight.
"I've got a thick book filled with things that I have been preparing for when I did come back into a head coach role. Now, I can start putting them in place," Bessell exclusively told Sky Sports during a break at The BiG Showdown earlier this month.
"There are quite a few new things that I've integrated into the team already and I'm seeing a couple of changes already."
Severn Stars' approach and focus
I’m very much about family. Nia and the girls were clapping the loudest when the ball girls were brought out [at The BiG Showdown]. That’s one of the things that I’ve said to the girls this year, we lead from the front and we’re role models and examples.
Since her appointment, the news out of Stars has been eye-catching, from the introduction of Liana Letoa and Ama Agbeze to Malawi's Towera Vinkhumbo.
Bessell has quickly boosted the franchise, who enjoyed a productive season last year, with international stardust. Stardust that will combine with familiar and excellent faces like Nia Jones, Paige Reed and Georgia Rowe.
At this point in time, all at the franchise are at the start of their time together and despite being a newly formed side, the head coach has her sights firmly fixed on the top.
"I'm going to for the final, I'm not mucking around..."
"I've said that and some people are going to say, 'Oh the cheek of her,' but I've taken on this job, I've moved my family and this isn't just a bit of fun," Bessell said.
"I've told the girls that we are going for the final. I'm not going for top four, I don't want to be a cop out and be safe. I want it to be known that this is what we're going for.
"I know that I have the players, I know that I have the commitment and when they're not committed at training I'm the first one to have a really good hard conversation and say, 'This is what we signed up to do'.
Bessell says it as it is, her pursuit of excellence drives her words and her direct style. Her approach is fuelled with passion for the sport and a will to succeed, and it was clearly having a positive impact on her players at The BiG Showdown in Bath.
When Leota's move from the reigning Superleague champions was announced, heads turned and it's no surprise to know that the exceptional mid-court player will be Bessell's on-court captain this season.
"Liana and I are very similar and it's almost like having a version of me on the court playing," the head coach said.
"The same work ethic that we have off the court, Liana demands on the court. She's a leader who not only walks the talk, she eats the talk... she does everything, and the girls respect her for that.
"She's the first one at training and she's the last one at training. A couple of times at training she's done something and the girls have just said, 'Oh my gosh..' and she just turns around and tells them to stop it and get on with it!"
Melissa Bessell discussing Ama Agbeze's move to Stars
She just has such a high work ethic and everything that she does has to be perfect [in her mind]. As I’ve said to her, no one is that perfect and that we like to see the blemishes. I think in all honesty, the reason that she was excited to come to me this year was because her husband is a Kiwi, she understands the Kiwi way and she knows that I say it as it is.
One other player who would have been a key part of Bessell's on-court plans is Sam Cook. The defender had an exceptional 2019 season and was due to lead Stars this season before an ACL injury curtailed her plans.
"I'd gone to her place and I'd written her a card," Bessell shared.
"I'd written to most of the girls and had done one-on-ones before I came in and I'd asked in Sam's if she'd be the captain? She instantly said that she'd love to and then her injury happened...
"She's so close to us still and I wasn't prepared to lose her. I'm very lucky to have her [as assistant coach] and I've got a few other people that I've yet to name that I'm going to be bringing through to help out. But, Sam and I are the team this year."
The news is out!! ..Whilst I have many decisions to make regarding my playing career, I couldn’t pass on what is and will continue to be an amazing opportunity for me. Who knows if I’ll be returning on the court but for now, I’ll be there on the sideline as Assistant Coach✌🏽⭐️ https://t.co/5cyf0E0j0g— Samantha Cook (@Sam_CookieCook) December 6, 2019
Stars are very clear about their goals and that clarity is driving their work. Bins having to be positioned at each corner of the court during training signal the intensity of their fitness work, and also the mental pressures that they're handling.
Already pre-season has not been the easiest, they arrived at their first official run-out at the University of Bath light on numbers and without some of their most experienced team members.
Added to that there have been some unforeseen situations for players during pre-season, something that whilBessell wouldn't have wanted to happen but realises will make them all stronger.
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"We didn't know that we were going to have all of these ups and downs but that's what happens during a season too. It's what life is all about," the head coach noted.
"If we can prepare ourselves mentally and physically then we can take on whomever and that's what I've said to the girls.
"It's not being cheeky [looking at the final], I think that it is being respectful.
"I know that we have to play at the ultimate, I've got to ask 100 per cent of the girls week in and week out, but that's what they signed up for. As I said, I know that I have the players and I know that I have the commitment."
Sky Sports is your home of netball and live action returns with the Vitality Nations Cup in January 2020. The four-nation competition starts on January 19 with England taking on the world champions New Zealand.