Dakota Thomas admits she’s not one to sit down and set goals for herself like many sporting stars, and considering she’s now preparing to link up with the new-look Swifts Academy roster in 2020, it seems to be working out pretty well.

That’s not to say she doesn’t have dreams in netball. Quite the opposite: the 18-year-old, of course, dreams of making it to the Suncorp Super Netball, playing in the national competition, and battling against the best every weekend.

She’s not one to leap before she looks, however, and knows that she has a lot of learning to do before she steps out under the bright lights of a competition like that. Right now, she has her eyes fixed firmly on the Australian Netball League again.

“I didn’t really expect anything, no, I was just trialling to see if they’d [Swifts and Waratahs] give me another shot, and it was such a nice surprise when they invited me to join the new Academy team,” Thomas told the Chronicle.

Her campaign towards the second-tier division with the NSW Waratahs, with who she played a handful of games this year as they marched to a runners-up spot in the league, has been aided by another representative announcement too—Thomas will be representing NSW Under 19s at the National Netball Championships in 2020.

Thomas facing off against Giants star Kiera Austin in the Netball NSW Premier League. Image via Clix Photography.

With both the New South Wales berth in her pocket, and the Swifts Academy on the horizon, Thomas says she’s feeling ready to take her next steps.

“I definitely think now that I’m secured in both these things, my pathway is onwards and upwards, now that I’ve made more teams I want to get more experience, and keep working myself up the ranks,” she said.

“Getting into both these teams is the next step forward, and hopefully, I can become the best player that I can be over the next few years. I never, ever want to stop learning, I love learning netball, and there’s always something to improve on.

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“For now, I want to look forward. I’m not one to set myself goals, but the first one I’ve got is to make the Waratahs squad again, and earn the playtime there out on the court. Then I want to become a Swifts training partner in the next few years.”

Dakota will be representing NSW in 2020, as she continues to learn in the new Swifts Academy.

One of the main reasons that Thomas is excited to step into the focused Swifts development program, she explained, was the chance to work under Lenore Blades, and learn from one of the best coaches in the state.

After her involvement in the Waratahs setup last year, which Blades oversaw, Thomas said she wanted to keep learning from a coach she realised “could teach her a lot,” in a way that made it easy to just keep developing.

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“This is the first time I’ll be properly working under Lenore, but I’ve never personally gotten a chance to work with her,” Dakota said. “Having open communication with her, she understood what I wanted out of this year, and my goals, and that was great.”

The 18-year-old added that while she was excited to learn with Blades, there was a string of coaches that had helped her to this path, none more than her Newcastle mentors, and especially her encouraging 12s coach Kim Geise.

“I enjoyed all of the coaches that I’ve had so far, they’ve all taught me different things, and Kim especially had a lot of belief in me in under 12s and 13s,” Thomas said.

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“She pushed me, congratulated me, made me captain for the rep squad, and she still believes in me to this day. She’ll still text or message, and tell me I’m doing well, and that’s what everyone in Newcastle is like. It’s nice to have them.”

Now it’s down to the young rising star to knuckle down and prepare for her 2020 season, where she’ll be learning and fighting on two fronts. Then, in the future: ANL, Super Netball, and wherever she can continue rising.

Dakota said she’s looking forward to learning from Lenore Blades at the academy.

It may have been the first time Dakota had truly thought about the Super Netball, when asked, and she laughed at the thought, before taking it a little more seriously. Playing for Swifts Academy, it was closer than she’d thought.

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“I have no idea what I’d think,” she laughed when asked how she’d feel to be invited into the top squad. “Excited? Grateful, definitely, and pretty nervous. I’ve been learning a lot, but I want to be fully equipped before doing that.”

“Regardless, it would feel like a blessing to be down court-side with the Swifts girls, and being involved in gameday and everything like that. I don’t even know if I can imagine it right now, because I’m so focused on what’s in front of me.”

Hunter’s young netball superstar is set to link up with the Academy system later this year, when the program begins at Netball Central in Sydney Olympic Park. Thomas’ and NSW’s National Championship campaign will begin April 18-23 in Hobart.