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Claire Maxwell

Despite being a veteran of the international stage, Scotland captain Claire Maxwell is excited to experience something new this month.

The Thistles head to South Africa next week for the SPAR Diamond Challenge and will face the Proteas for the first time since their 65-46 defeat at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

But Maxwell is focussing on the encounter with Zimbabwe, an unknown quantity to the Scotland team.

Ahead of the World Cup in Cape Town next year, the Strathclyde Sirens player hopes that the series will be a vital opportunity for her young team to pick up some much-needed experience in the country.

“I think I’m the only athlete that’s been on a tour with the Scotland dress on so that means we’re bringing a big group out that can really learn from the experience,” she said.

“It’s great exposure for the girls. South Africa are top-class opposition and Zimbabwe, it’s a country that I’ve never actually played against before so we’re going to gain a huge amount of information to grow our game.

“We don’t play a lot of African countries and they play netball a bit differently to us but their range is incredible so we can take a lot of learning over the Diamond series.

“Even getting used to an African crowd, a lot of our previous competitions have been UK based so we’ve had a lot of support, so that will be a key taking as well.

“I’m really excited to hit the tour and create some amazing memories in South Africa with the group.”

Scotland qualified for the 2023 World Cup in October, finishing second to Wales in the European qualifying event in Glasgow.

In a gruelling round-robin of matches, the Thistles whistled through to claim qualification but fell short of the top spot with a 58-51 defeat to the Feathers in their final game.

However, Maxwell was over the moon with her team’s qualification, knowing that an intense few months of international action ultimately paid off.

“It’s been a busy period of international netball for us following the Commonwealth Games.

“We went straight into our World Cup qualifiers prep and have now qualified for the World Cup in South Africa.

“It’s always a hugely high-pressure event with five games in five days and us, Wales and Northern Ireland all sitting in that top 12 and wanting spaces.

“So, it was really competitive, but we got the qualification!

“We came up short with one of our results in terms of getting the win but four wins out of five is good and we will be on the plane to South Africa next year.”

With experienced Maxwell leading the way, the Scottish Thistles have a fresh-faced squad compared to their previous World Cup campaign, where they finished 11th in Liverpool in 2019.

The likes of 20-year-old Emma Barrie and 22-year-old Niamh McCall have packed a punch in the squad over the past few years, bringing a new dynamic to their level of play.

Maxwell is pleased to see the variety of Netball Super League clubs her compatriots are now representing, but there is still a unity between the squad, helped by axe throwing and archery tag contests.

Maxwell said: “We have a lot of youth in the squad now and they’re players with a vast range of experience from other clubs as well, whereas previously we had a few people from similar clubs and similar environments.

“So, to have that different knowledge adds that diversity and different blend of style and combinations.

“The Super League teams are getting stronger and stronger and just within the League, you can now be exposed to a range of styles of netball.

“Our Scottish athletes getting time on the Super League court during the season is really vital in terms of our progress and making sure we can do those performances week in week out.”

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