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Melissa Bessell

Bessell's Stars have three wins in the Vitality Netball Superleague this season. [Image: Ben Lumley]

Melissa Bessell has not ruled out a return to coaching in the Vitality Netball Superleague after it was announced she was stepping down from her coaching role and returning to New Zealand for family reasons.

The Severn Stars Head Coach confirmed she would leave at the end of the season to attend to her husband in New Zealand who has been suffering from cancer.

Bessell, who has been coach of the stars since 2019, caught up with Caroline Barker and Tamsin Greenway on the latest episode of Off the Court and spoke of her reasons for returning home.

“I found out my husband has cancer which really threw things in a pickle for me. Everything was going well and then when I got the news it was just before we were starting the Super League season and I couldn’t go home and that scared me,” said Bessell

“Over the past two years, especially with the pandemic, it’s hit home how precious family is.

“For anyone that knows me, they know that family is absolutely everything to me and my number one priority.”

Bessell had tried to go home earlier but New Zealand’s strict Covid restrictions meant she had difficulty getting into the country to see her husband.

She added: “Knowing that I couldn’t get home to my husband was horrible and after finally seeing him last week, it has put everything into perspective.

“I’ve always said to all of my players, love what you do but always know the reason you do the best you do is because of your family behind you.

“For me, I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I am going home to my family.”

Bessell, who has been in the UK since 2009, mentioned that she has had long discussions with her husband and he encouraged her to stay in the UK and carry on coaching Severn Stars because he understands her love and determination for the game.

While laughing she said: “He said you’re not allowed to ring me unless you win, so I haven’t spoken to him for a while.”

She had special words for her squad and the club hierarchy who she greatly thanks for supporting her during such a difficult time.

“I told my girls and they’ve been very supportive on my journey. Having Cat actually living here to cuddle the kids and pick them up from school has been such a blessing.

“When I’ve needed a cuddle, Cat and Liana, as they are also Kiwis living away from home are like my family and have been awesome, but all the players have been great. 

“My Stars family has been the ultimate. Even the people at the very top,  they’ve been so supportive.”

As Bessell departs from the game, she believes that netball as a whole is in a much better place than when she arrived but acknowledges there is still more to be done.

“When I was at Dragons last week and we had all the flashing lights during the walk-on, it just reminded me how far the sport has come.

“Now there are lights, there’s real magic and it’s great! When I think back to when I first came it can only get better and stronger.

“Moving forward, it would be great to have netball become full-time on television because I think so many people love it and it would be great to watch it worldwide so that everyone can see how great the sport is over here for women.”

Bessell, who has coached the national teams for New Zealand Maori, Fiji and Wales, could not confirm if she would ever return to coach again in the UK but did mention that she does have permanent residency rights in the UK.

She said: “You never know, you might just hear this crazy voice on the sideline unexpectedly very soon.”

The news comes after Severn Stars announced it will continue as a Vitality Netball Superleague franchise under the sole ownership of the University of Worcester after the co-owner, University of Gloucestershire, announced its withdrawal at the end of the 2022 season.

Severn Stars‘ next fixture will see them play away to Leeds Rhinos this upcoming Monday and Bessell will lead her team out for the final time in the Stars’ final match of the season against Strathclyde Sirens at Oxstalls Arena on 29 May.

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