By Michael Roberts | posted on October 16, 2020
SHERIDAN Kowald wasn’t even supposed to be playing in this year’s Albany Netball Association (ANA) grand final, but the Narrikup goal shooter ended up carrying her team to a famous underdog victory.
When the 21-year old tore her ACL playing footy for Mount Barker in March, participating in any kind of sport in 2020 seemed a long way away.
That fateful March day wasn’t the first time Kowald had seriously damaged her knee, either.
Less than three years earlier she had done the same injury playing netball for Lake Grace.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Kowald explained.
“There’s pain for about two minutes, you hear it snap and you can’t put weight on it.
“Then there’s no pain, but there’s no support so you can’t walk on it. You try to get up but you just fall over.”
Injuring her ACL for the second time, Kowald’s thoughts immediately turned to the long, agonising road back to recovery.
“Straight away I was in hysterics,” she said.
“I was a mess for five to six weeks just crying every day. The mental battle is really tough.”
With professional sportspeople typically taking anywhere between 9-12 months to fully recover from a torn ACL, Kowald certainly didn’t think she would be playing competitive netball in 2020.
But as the old saying goes, never write off a champion. And you get the impression the 21-year old relishes a challenge.
Determined to get back fitter and stronger than ever before, Kowald went about doing everything she could to reach full fitness in record time.
“At the six week mark I got back to running – they recommend about double that time,” she said.
“Sometimes I would do a two-hour gym session and go to netball training.”
About five months after the injury, Kowald’s Narrikup coach Lisa O’Farrell noticed the young star was moving pretty smoothly out on the court and asked whether a return date was possible.
At the time, Narrikup had lost four of their first seven games.
“Lisa came up and asked me if I wanted to set a date to play a game,” Kowald said.
“She gave me confidence. She was relying on me to lift the girls.”
Thrilled with Kowald’s progress, her surgeon gave the all clear to return to competitive sport just six months after that dark day in March.
But the 21 year-old’s physiotherapist and parents were more sceptical.
“It’s not that they didn’t support me, they were just worried about what could happen,” she said.
“I had people recommending I never go back to sport. But sport is my whole life.”
The Katanning product did however have the undying support of her Narrikup teammates.
“There were so many signs just pushing for yes, rather than no,” she said.
“The whole team support system was massive. It was a big boost.”
Making a return to the court, albeit under limited game time, Kowald immediately made an impact.
“I think I shot at 85 per cent my first game,” she said.
“It felt like a reward. It was the best feeling.”
After finishing the season in third position behind the likes of Railways and Royals Saints, who had both only lost one game all year, Narrikup looked on paper to be making up the numbers.
But with Kowald now back playing full minutes, an inspired Narrikup outfit dismantled each of their finals opponents.
Narrikup tore Royals apart in a preliminary final before spoiling Railways’ first ANA A1 Grand Final appearance with a commanding 10-point victory.
Kowald was untouchable upfront for Narrikup in the A1 decider, taking home the Lucille Holt trophy as best player of the day.
“It was pure satisfaction,” she said.
“Literally, it was so surreal. I was in the zone.
“As soon as the final whistle went in the grand final, my body was done. I had nothing left in the tank.”
What’s next for the young netball star?
She still has dreams of one day playing either football or netball at a professional level, but is very much taking it one step at a time.
“I’ve just got to perform now,” Kowald said.
“Hopefully this time next year I will be stronger than I’ve ever been.”