Formed in the early 90s, the Adelaide University Netball Club first recorded formal teams in 1995 as part of the South Australian Netball Association. But, as told by alumna and former Varsity netball player Sandra Reynolds, the University’s involvement in the sport has a long history spanning as far back as the 1920s.
“A sadness and surprise was on discovering the hiatus in the Varsity netball club, which although happily revived in 1995 as the Blacks – a name used by the Varsity footballers throughout their long and illustrious membership in Amateur League – these enterprising netball players had no knowledge of the long and significant past history of the club,” Sandra said.
According to University records, the Varsity netball club was in fact established in 1925 in affiliation with the University of Adelaide Sports Association. Known at the time as women’s basketball, it was not until a surge in the popularity of men’s basketball in 1970 that the seven-a-side sport was rebadged as it is known today.
This past history extends beyond Sandra’s own memory. Her mother, Ruth Grant, played for the Adelaide Teachers’ College and later the Varsity team. In those days action was restricted to a more static style of play, with the centre player confined to the centre third of the court and goal attack and defence restricted to the goal third.
Uniforms were a far cry from the A-line bodysuit dresses worn today. Players including Ruth wore shirts and black box-pleated tunics with a black and white check band near the bottom, which Sandra would go on to inherit and wear with pride upon joining the Varsity team in 1963.
A winter sport, games were sometimes played in the pouring rain and only halted to sweep the courts of accumulated water. It was in these cases Sandra would resort to contact lenses. “My reinforced spectacles did not have windscreen wipers and could have been dislodged as I flew down the court during our high speed matches,” she said.
This vigour for the sport saw her elected Varsity’s club president, continuing in the role until the end of 1967. Associated commitments included organising the teams, writing match reports for On Dit, and organising travel for the annual Intervarsity competition.
These competitions were met with much excitement each year. “Intervarsities in that time were played in Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Hobart and were an annual highlight, especially as we always won,” Sandra explained.
At the time, the team’s closest contender was Melbourne University. At the 1966 Sydney Intervarsity Adelaide gained victory over its rival, winning 52-26. As a result, players from the team dominated the selection of an all-Australian university basketball side. Alongside Lea Matheson, Carolyn Webber and Cheryl Thomas, Sandra received this honour and was awarded a Half Blue, presented to full members of an AU Sport club for achievement at a high level, followed by a Blue, awarded to those who have participated at a state or national level with distinction, the next year.
In 2008, players who were awarded one of these honours reunited at Bonython Hall to celebrate one hundred years of Sporting Blues.
“It was a very happy and significant time in our lives,” said Sandra. “To date, friendships in this group have been sustained for over fifty years”.