UAE's Under 17 netball team, better known as Eyasses, continued their upward trajectory by clinching silver at the European Quadrangular tournament in Newcastle last week.
The Eyasses overcame Scotland 52-48 but lost to eventual winners England 85-29. They were also beaten 82-22 by England Invitational – an U18 side who played as the fourth team but not as part of the competition. However, the biggest positive, apart from a second-place finish, was an opportunity to play high-level competition.
To top it all, the Eyasses captain and goal-shoot Charlie Preston won the most valuable player award from Europe Netball, to go with the European Challenge gold she won with the senior Falcons in October.
“I just feel so honoured to have received this award as there were so many outstanding players at the competition,” Preston told The National.
“This award will take pride of place to remind me of the amazing experience in Newcastle and right next to the runners-up medal we all won as a team and next to the gold medal the Falcons took away from the European Challenge.”
The Eyasses made the most of their first tour since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, which shows the team is moving in the right direction.
“The team loved the opportunity to play up against England and Scotland,” Preston said.
“Their pathways are very established and we were thrilled to have been able to turn the ball over as often as we did and to come away with a win against Scotland.
“The competition was tough and the team learnt a lot from this experience, each game brought us more learning opportunity.”
The highlight of the tournament for the Eyasses was the win over Scotland, which Preston described as the best moment for the team.
“The game was goal for goal – going into the last quarter the score was even,” she said.
“As captain during the team talks at the end of each quarter, I was just eager to keep the positive momentum going. The team never stopped until the final whistle and we were so proud to take the win over a very tough Scotland team.
“It was a fantastic win for us and it gave us a big confidence boost before going up against strong England opposition.”
Preston felt the two games against England were exactly as anticipated as their opponents were strong, accurate and fast.
“However, we weren't focused on the scores, instead we were concentrating on playing our best game,” she said.
“There are so many positives to take forward from this competition. The main one is perhaps the fact that we proved with our performance that our standard of play is advanced enough to compete at the upper levels of U17 European competition.
“This in turn proves that the calibre of netball here in the UAE is very high at this age group and hopefully this can be maintained through the various school programmes, clubs, leagues and pathways that feed into performance netball here in the UAE which the team and I have benefitted from.”
Susanne Skelding, the manager of UAE netball, was all praise for the “mighty performance” of the Eyasses.
“I think the coaching team knew they could pull out a win against Scotland but the question was whether they would,” she said.
“This is their first experience of performance netball on the international stage so it was challenging both physically and psychologically. We are all delighted with the outcome of this game as Scotland put out a strong team with a strong performance.
“Whilst the Eyasses suffered losses against the England U17 and Invitational teams, they achieved many of the goals they had been set. Playing against UK Super League players was a tall order and we are delighted with the players’ never-give-up attitude and overall performance.”
The Eyasses have another international competition in November, which will be hosted by Gibraltar Netball.
According to Skelding, the same 12 will play against hosts Switzerland, Gibraltar and Isle of Man, plus other European member countries that are yet to be confirmed.
Then in February 2023, the girls who turned 17 in 2022 will move on and UAE Netball will recruit new players into the squad.
“So there is a full and exciting schedule of competition for this age group and more opportunities for players to represent the UAE at netball,” Skelding said.
Preston will rejoin the Falcons when they head to the Isle of Man to defend their gold medal in May this year.
“A few of the older Eyasses will also be going for selection this coming weekend for the open squad. So it’s a busy time for our netballers who are juggling school work and exams to play performance netball,” Skelding added.
“The latest world rankings have just come out and we are delighted to see UAE at 25. Our goal is to get into the top 20 by 2023 which could be feasible with a win in May.
“The UAE can be proud of their position in the world rankings. This is no mean feat and it is a testament to the team behind the teams who give their time and expertise voluntarily, ensuring we have a solid player pathway to consolidate performances year on year. The future looks bright for UAE netball.”