Simmons a Verity-able superstar on court
IF THERE is anything you take from Verity Simmons' story, it is that the humble, talented netballer is proof that anyone, anywhere, can live their dream.
Simmons was born in the south west Sydney city of Liverpool, where she spent her first few years before moving to her grandparents' farm at Southgate with her sisters Marley and Ebony and mother Carol.
Enjoying a fun, carefree childhood, Simmons' natural sporting ability shone at local level until she left for Newcastle as a teenager, securing a place with New South Wales Institute of Sport in recognition of her netballing prowess.
She battled through injury and illness and persevered when giving up would have been an acceptable and easy solution. Her determination eventually earned her a spot at the Australian Institute of Sport and later, a place in an ANZ Championship team.
Now starring for the Queensland Firebirds in her third season in the elite netball competition, Simmons reflected on her journey from carefree youngster to the seasoned professional she is today.
"We had such a good life," Simmons remembered.
"We had a pool, a tennis court we converted into a netball/basketball court, horses, paddock bashers - it was great."
Simmons excelled in both netball and basketball, utilising the concrete court at the Southgate farm to develop her skill at both sports.
"We had a basketball ring at one end and netball hoop at the other," Simmons said.
"I was definitely better with the backboard. I love basketball, but it got to a stage where I had to pick either basketball or netball."
History shows Simmons qualified for the state teams in both sports, but a clash of schedules meant she could only pick one.
As it turned out, she made the right decision, forging a career in netball she could have only imagined when she turned out for the City Stars in Grafton's weekend competition.
"My nan was my first coach," Simmons said.
"It was tough because she was always tough on me. She was such a good coach.
"I honestly would have learned so much. She just had such a good knowledge of the game."
Netball was a true family hobby for the Simmons clan.
Along with her nan acting as her first coach, Simmons played alongside her two sisters and mother for Wendys in the local A-grade competition as she grew older.
Simmons said her family "knew netball like the back of their hand", which only helped lead the team to several premierships.
"It was good because we just knew where we were going to be just practising so much in the backyard, just playing around," Simmons said.
"We had a great team. We won A-grade grand finals a fair bit as well."
Reaching the elite
Simmons started her ANZ Championship career at the Fever in 2012, enjoying a tough pre-season as she prepared for the toughest netball of her career.
Her plan for a perfect start didn't eventuate, with constant ankle injuries ravaging the centre's season.
The wretched run with injury did bring a silver lining however, with an ever-growing desire for game time consuming the then 21-year-old.
"I was injured a lot the first year," Simmons said.
"I had a great pre-season but kept rolling ankles or shin splints. I scored a lot of injuries and was out with a lot of injury time.
"It gets to that point where you get pretty frustrated and down because you can't be on the court and can't train to your potential, but looking back at it now, that's what gives you that hunger or drive for the next year.
"I scored a lot of bench time which hurt. I hated it when I was there, but that was the drive I think I needed for the next year."
Simmons only managed a handful of games in her first season with West Coast but hit her straps by the time 2013 rolled around.
Gone were the constant injury concerns, replaced with a hunger to be the best in Fever's line-up.
She got her chance in the first game against NSW Swifts, capitalising on a teammate's injury to reclaim a permanent spot in the starting seven.
"I can remember looking up to my family before I went out and just thought, 'yep, go, get out there'," Simmons said.
"It was a good game, we won it, and I think I started every game after that."
Though she didn't get to experience the finals, Simmons impressed enough on court to be approached by Queensland Firebirds.
Simmons said she took weeks deciding which way to go, but family and the development of her netball won out in the end.
"It was a bit of a shock for me because I wasn't really expecting it," Simmons said.
"At the end of each season when your contract's up you never really know what's going to happen.
"It was definitely very exciting when they made the phone call and asked me to come over.
"I put money aside and thought money can wait, I'm still young and netball comes first so make the decision based on netball."
Formerly Fever, now a Firebird
Simmons didn't have much time to settle in to her new surrounds with the Firebirds' tough pre-season starting the day after she arrived.
She has settled in well in the time since, adapting to a completely different approach to netball which she said focuses on the team aspects of the sport.
"As soon as I moved over we were straight into it the next day," Simmons said.
"It was a tough pre-season but we all feel fighting fit and sharp so they've done their work really well.
"I didn't realise how different one sport can be in two different states. We're still training and playing netball like any other team but it's a different approach here.
"It's very team-orientated, they take the individual out of it - it's all about the team and team structures which I like."
Simmons returned to Perth as a Firebird for the first time three weeks ago, and will host her former team in tomorrow's vital clash in Brisbane.
The ANZ Championship is in the midst of its tightest season in recent years, with only two points separating seven teams on the table.
They are treating every game as a grand final, with a loss set to make their premiership aspirations tougher to reach.
"The Fever are playing good netball and they're a tough side," Simmons said. "We've got a bit of a fight on our hands this weekend.
"You have to treat it as a grand final each week so you've got to prepare. You have to treat every game as your last."