One of the highlights of this year’s Super Netball competition has been watching the younger players compete against some of the world’s best.
Two youngsters in particular have clearly led the pack – Sophie Dwyer and Sunday Aryang.
The Giants shooter and West Coast Fever defender are the most likely candidates to win this season’s Rising Star Award – given annually to a player who started the season under the age of 23.
Judged by a panel, usually the Diamonds selectors, the winner must show, skill, tenacity, good sportsmanship and where possible, a connection to their community or charities.
Both Dwyer and Aryang have been linked to the Australian squad for the first time this month and have been integral to their team’s top-four success this year.
The pair just happen to also be one of the most important match-ups in this weekend’s preliminary final. Their battle could not only determine which team gets a shot at the title, but who the best young player on the court is of 2021.
Dwyer’s lack of fear has been the story of her season
In just her second season of Super Netball, 19-year-old Sophie Dwyer has quickly gone from being an impact player to a starting goal attack, after the Giants lost Diamonds shooter Kiera Austin to an ACL injury in the second quarter of their opening game.
Coming on as a replacement, Dwyer played more minutes in that match (40) than the total she’d played last season (eight) and it was an impressive feat, considering her teammate had just gone down in devastating fashion.
Without any signs of nerves or fear, Dwyer split the shooting load evenly with captain and English import Jo Harten, easing Giants fans’ worries after the team had suffered such a big setback so early in the season.
Dwyer has since started in the Giants’ following 14 matches this year and is developing her game under the guidance of Harten live on court.
Her cool head means she rarely shows signs of weakness and isn’t fazed by her opponents – no matter how big the name – proving she is every bit worthy of a genuine starting spot next year.
Not only has Dwyer been solid for her team and embraced such a big responsibility at such a young age, but she has also proved she is destined for a big future in Super Netball.
Dwyer is already matching it with some of the world’s best at such an early stage in her professional career. She is currently ranked second in the competition for super shots (47) and in the top 10 playing stats for goals scored (347), centre pass receives (204) and offensive rebounds (12).
Moving forward, she’ll need to tighten up her overall accuracy (77 per cent) and turnover count (96 – the second highest in the league).
Regardless of these areas of improvement, the Diamonds have also recognised her talent and efforts this year, naming her as a tour invitee for the upcoming Constellation Cup series.
Aryang’s ‘fancy footwork’ has proved lethal in the circle
Ethiopian-born Sunday Aryang made her Super Netball debut back in 2019 as a training partner with Fever.
But it was in 2020 where she got her big break, travelling to the Queensland hub as part of the extended squad for the condensed season.
Aryang played 14 of their 17 games, coming off the bench as an impact player for the majority of the time.
Her determination and incredible skill have seen her take a stronger hold of the goal defence bib this year, and in the 15 matches the team has played so far.
Not only has the 20-year-old’s work rate increased with more time spent on court, but her fancy footwork and great timing means she is one of the cleanest defenders in the league, ranking 21st for total penalties, having only conceded 118.
This is a pretty significant achievement, considering goal defences are generally one of the most penalised positions on the netball court.
Aryang also sits in the top 10 playing statistics for gains (52), defensive rebounds (13) and intercepts (23).
Her hard work saw her rewarded with her first Diamonds call-up this month to the official squad for the Constellation Cup series.
Both the Giants and Fever have each won a game against the other during the regular season. The most recent result going the Minor Premiers’ way two weeks ago when they claimed a 75-73 win in round 14.
It is the first year Dwyer and Aryang have played against each other in Super Netball, having spent 72 minutes in the opposing GA and GD positions before this weekend.
Statistics made available by Champion Data.