Melbourne Vixens premiership winner Elle McDonald reflects on time with Ballarat Pride

LOOK AT HER NOW: Former Ballarat Pride player Elle McDonald playing with the Melbourne Vixens. Picture: Supplied
LOOK AT HER NOW: Former Ballarat Pride player Elle McDonald playing with the Melbourne Vixens. Picture: Supplied

When Melbourne Vixens player Elle McDonald climbed the podium to receive her Suncorp Super Netball premiership medal following the club's two-goal win over the West Coast Fever, her mind drifted back to Ballarat.

She was 17 years old, and had just missed out on selection into her local Victorian Netball League club, the North East Blaze. She was already looking towards the following season before her mother came up with an idea.

"Ballarat was the only club that had trial dates remaining so my mum encouraged me to tryout for the Ballarat Pride," she recalled.

She hopped in the car and made what would be the first of many trips to Ballarat over the coming season. After trialing for the Pride's 19-under program, coached by Kerry Lightfoot, she got the offer she had been waiting for.

"I remember being so ecstatic when I got the email saying I'd been selected for the 19-under team," she said.

McDonald played one season with the Pride, establishing herself as a favourite of Lightfoot. After finishing second on the competition ladder, the club fell short of the grand final.

But McDonald got what she had hoped for. She had developed as a player and grown in confidence. She even had the satisfaction of thrashing the very team that had cut her by 30 goals.

Elle McDonald on debut

Elle McDonald on debut

"We had a really good season that year, we missed out on the grand final but I loved the experience," she said.

"I think we did better than a lot of people expected. We didn't have any superstar names but we clicked as a team and got on as friends off the court."

She didn't know it at the time, but the experience had put her on the pathway to the elite ranks. And in the coming years she found herself on the squad of the Victorian Fury in the Australian Netball League - a feeder team for the Melbourne Vixens.

"I was lucky to keep improving and when I had ANL tryouts, I had the mindset that I had nothing to lose," she said.

After winning an ANL grand final with the Fury in 2019, she was invited to start training with the Vixens and was eventually offered a training partnership for the 2020 Super Netball League season.

Through a stroke of good fortune, the club the increased its roster from 10 to 12 players. As a result, McDonald was one of three partnership players to join the team in its Queensland hub.

She got to sit on the bench for every game and in August, made her Super Netball debut.

"It happened quickly, Kate Maloney got injured and Simone (McKinnes) looked down at the bench at me," she said.

COUNTDOWN: McDonald (right) celebrates grand final win as final seconds tick away. Picture: Supplied

COUNTDOWN: McDonald (right) celebrates grand final win as final seconds tick away. Picture: Supplied

"The girls got around me on court and made me feel confident I could fill that role."

Although she didn't hit the court in the grand final, the feeling felt no less hollow.

"Looking at that medal you look back and think what a journey," she said.

"So much of netball is being given that opportunity and Kerry and other selectors in Ballarat gave me that chance and to get my foot in the door.

"I'm blessed to have started my journey in Ballarat."

This story McDonald takes 'Pride' in journey to the top first appeared on The Courier.