LEEDS-based Yorkshire Jets netball star Natalie Haythornthwaite was left somewhat speechless upon being named her sport’s player of the year.
Quite ironic for a girl studying speech therapy at Leeds Beckett University and back in the exam hall three days after being named the best player in the country.
Lancashire-raised Haythornthwaite was just 15 when joining the Yorkshire Jets – following coach Anna Carter in venturing to the other side of the Pennines.
Seven years later, the 22-year-old is her club and sport’s girl of the moment with the Jets vice-captain presented with her Superleague player of the year award by The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE) star Ferne McCann at last weekend’s finals day at London’s Copper Box Arena.
A secret fan of TOWIE, Haythornthwaite was left pinching herself at her flirtation with stardom but it’s likely a sign of things to come for the Headingley-based netball ace who could now make her full England debut at next week’s Home Internationals.
There’s numerous reasons for the blonde star to celebrate.
If only there was time, that is, with Haythornthwaite now studying her second degree in speech therapy at Leeds Beckett and very much focused on her long term goals off the court as well as the here and now. Taking 15 minutes out of her busy schedule at her Headingley flat, Haythornthwaite told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “With netball it is always good to have a back up because it’s not like football or rugby.
“I like to have a non-sporting ambition and I am very passionate about speech therapy and I would love to become a speech therapist one day. That would be my ambition. I didn’t have enough experience to do a degree in speech therapy at first so I did linguistics and phonetics instead at the University Of Leeds.
“Then I applied for my speech therapy but I didn’t know if I was going to get in.
“I was going to go and get a job once I graduated but then when I got accepted I thought if ‘I don’t do it now then I’ll never do it.’
“It all happened very quickly as I remember getting my graduation photos the day I started my speech therapy course. It was like here we go again! It’s a very demanding course but I love it though someone was saying to me ‘did you celebrate at the weekend?’ I celebrated a bit on Saturday but I had three exams on Monday and Tuesday so it was like ‘not really because I have got my exams!’”
Expect Haythornthwaite to have passed with flying colours with the Lancashire-raised star thriving on and off the court, four years after moving to Leeds. Haythornthwaite was actually born in Yorkshire – at Airedale General Hospital in Steeton – but grew up in the village of Barrowford near Pendle with mum Paula, dad David, and sisters Lauren and Ashleigh, aged 24 and 20 respectively.
The middle sister’s netball career began at Ribble Valley as a ten-year-old where she first encountered coach Carter who then mentored Haythornthwaite both for the North West High Performance Programme and then in her England youth days, at which point Haythornthwaite played for Manchester Thunder.
When Carter crossed the Pennines to join the Jets alongside Tracey Neville, Haythornthwaite followed – initially commuting for two years while still studying at Nelson and Colne College.
When the time came to chose a university, Leeds was a long odds-on favourite.
“Leeds was always a big favourite for me, really, because I had already been here for two years before I came to uni,” said Haythornthwaite. “I knew the place, the girls and the facilities and all the girls were studying here so I thought ‘I want to be like one of them!’ Now I am!
“I love going back home, don’t get me wrong, but I definitely love Leeds now.
“I love the city, I love the people here and I can definitely see it being my home in the near future. I like it a lot.”
The feeling is mutual with Haythornthwaite having also found love in the city with basketball player boyfriend Josh Metcalf, formerly of Leeds Carnegie, now Leeds Force. And next season his girlfriend could be the driving force of the city’s netball team in light of this season’s Jets captain Lauren Potter retiring to concentrate on her studies and ultimately become a doctor. The heir to the throne is obvious.
“Lauren’s boots are very big boots to fill as she did such a good job,” said Haythornthwaite.
“I’ll have to see if I’m up for the challenge! But I’d love to help support Yorkshire Jets as I’ve been here for so many years. I don’t see myself leaving any time soon but everyone’s different, and Lauren’s degree is so demanding.
“I am so proud of her and becoming a doctor is really amazing. I’ve known Lauren for so long and we are two of the girls that have been with the Jets since it started, really.
“We’re like old people in the team but we’re only 22!
“It’s weird that she’s not going to be there and when she was telling us that she was leaving it was a bit surreal.
“I don’t quite know if I believe it and I’m still hoping that she comes back in September!
“But I totally support her in what she’s doing and I know her life is going in a different direction.”
Potter joked on Twitter this week that good friend Haythornthwaite’s YEP feature was a case of “out with the old, in with the new” but now the player of the year’s only problem is how she can possibly better these last few months.
Haythornthwaite has been called up for England duty before in 2013 but while never experiencing any court time two years ago it’s likely to be a totally different ball game in 2015 for Superleague’s player of the year. The netball ace beamed: “Things feel amazing and when people say ‘Natalie Haythornthwaite, player of the year’ it puts a big smile on my face.
“There were 6,000 people there and when they said my name it was one of them moments where you’ve got to pinch yourself. I was just trying to take it all in.
“It was a great moment and I’m also a secret big fan of TOWIE and that’s the first thing I said to Ferne McCann when she presented the award – I watch TOWIE! It was quite surreal. But I’m just really lucky and honoured to have been given the award but it’s a team effort really because I’d have never have been able to have got into this position without all the team.
“Now I go away with England on Monday and if I played it would be my first cap as well.
“It would be quite a monumental moment and I think a few tears would be shed.
“I’m just trying to keep my feet grounded and stay level headed about it all and just enjoy the experience.
“I just want to enjoy the moment – to keep doing well and hold on to this for as long as I can...my next exam is two weeks on Monday!”