History-making Diamond Sunday Aryang chokes back tears after learning of Australian call-up

Sunday Aryang will make history when she makes her Diamonds debut. And her incredible journey to get there from Ethiopia left her choking back tears.

After arriving in Australia from Ethiopia with her family two decades ago, Sunday Aryang could become the first African-born player to play for the Diamonds. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
After arriving in Australia from Ethiopia with her family two decades ago, Sunday Aryang could become the first African-born player to play for the Diamonds. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

The silence is eventually filled by the sound of Sunday Aryang choking back tears.

Thrilled as she is at her selection in the Diamonds’ team for Australia’s netball quad series in England in January, it’s not that news that has her so emotional.

It’s when Aryang, who arrived in Australia from Ethiopia with her family almost two decades ago, is informed she’s the first player born in Africa to represent the Diamonds, that the magnitude of her achievement hits.

Determined to give their children the best chance in life, Aryang’s parents Ariet and Clement left for a new start in Australia, where they have raised their four children – Rose, 22, Sunday, 20, Ruth, 17, and John, 12 – in Western Australia and encouraged them to strive to achieve their goals.

Sunday Aryang will become the first player of African heritage to represent the Diamonds. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Sunday Aryang will become the first player of African heritage to represent the Diamonds. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

It’s a sacrifice that’s not lost on Aryang in her barrier-smashing selection.

When the words eventually come, they are filled with emotion.

“Yeah it does it definitely does mean a lot,” a teary Aryang said of her selection.

“Obviously coming from a different country at a younger age, and my parents wanted us to come here to get the possible chance at life.

“I remember them just saying, as long as you guys come here happy and achieve the goals that you set, (we’ll be proud).”

Aryang arrived in Australia with her parents and older sister Rose in 2002, the family hoping for a better life.

“I was one-and-a-half when we came over, so quite young,” Aryang said.

“There was a civil war, it’s pretty much still going on.

“They wanted us to get the best education and live a life where we’re not in fear of anything happening to us, so I’m very grateful and thankful to them for giving us that opportunity.”

Australian netball does not have a great record with diversity.

Just two Indigenous players have represented the Diamonds and only one – the Queensland Firebirds’ Jemma Mi Mi – plays in the world-leading Super Netball competition.

Aryang in action earlier this year for the Fever against the Vixens. Picture: Graham Denholm/Getty Images
Aryang in action earlier this year for the Fever against the Vixens. Picture: Graham Denholm/Getty Images

There are several women of colour in the league but most are imports – from England, the Caribbean and Africa – while Chanel Gomes, Diamond no. 157, although born in NSW, is also of African descent, with her father of Cape Verde heritage.

Aryang though is one of the few Aussies from a racially diverse heritage other than Polynesian to have come through the system recently.

And she hopes to be a beacon for change.

“It’s very nice to be part of that change,” she said.

“I hope that with myself, younger kids from different cultures, all the multicultural kids can look up to me or look up to the sport and have the chance to potentially play in SSN or even one day play for the Diamonds.”

The next player to come through could be from her own family.

Younger sister Ruth, who like Aryang is a defender, is in the West Coast Fever system and Sunday said it would be a dream to play alongside her.

“She’s definitely got a bright future and hopefully one day we get the opportunity to play alongside each other,” Aryang said.

But it’s her own story Aryang is concentrating on for now.

Born on Christmas Day in 2000 – ironically not a Sunday – Aryang will be 21 by the time the Diamonds tour England for the quad series.

Selected in an outstanding group of experienced defenders, she may not make her debut in London.

But her selection, like that of NSW teen goaler Sophie Dwyer is a nod to the future as Australia prepares for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next year and World Cup in South Africa in 2023.

It’s a giant step for the kid who only took up netball at 10 because her primary school had no basketball side and was seen at a schools carnival by Swan Districts Netball Association development officer Sue Stacey, who invited her to play club netty.

Aryang launches at the ball. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Aryang launches at the ball. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

“I think I did fall in love with it when I went to that carnival,” Aryang said.

“It wasn’t something that I was looking at before accidentally stepping upon it but I’m grateful that I took the opportunity.

“It’s definitely brightened my future and put me in places I never expected myself to be.”

It was a leap of faith moment that would be repeated in 2020 when Aryang decided to leave her full-time job in Perth to travel to the Queensland hub with the Fever despite being just a training partner.

“It was definitely a tough decision for me to make because I was working on the side as well as being a training partner for Fever,” she said.

“When I look back at it, I’m definitely happy with the decision I’ve made, it definitely helped my netball progress a lot, so I wouldn’t change the decision I made.”

It helped bring the “very shy girl” out of her shell and allowed her to flourish on court, winning the Fever’s goal defence spot from England international Stacey Francis-Bayman and becoming one of Super Netball’s star defenders with 50 deflections and 24 intercepts in 16 games this season.

Even if she doesn’t make her Diamonds debut on tour, Aryang will gain plenty of experience in London.

“I’ll just be happy with the opportunity to go away,” she said.

Her West Coast Fever coach Dan Ryan, who replaces Diamonds mentor Stacey Marinkovich, who left to concentrate solely on the national program, said Aryang was “such an exciting young talent”.

“To be given the opportunity to wear the green and gold so early on in her career is something she should be very proud of,” Ryan said.

“Her growth in the past few years has been pretty rapid but she’s an incredibly humble and grounded young woman so I’m sure she’ll just take this in her stride and embrace any opportunities that come her way.

“I have every confidence she’ll thrive in the Diamonds environment and I can’t wait to see how she shapes up against the world’s best on the international stage.”

But some major adjustments lie ahead, with Aryang heading back to the goal-setting drawing board having already achieved her career goal.

“Even now it’s still crazy,” she said of her Diamonds selection.

“It’s definitely a mind blow. I remember getting into SSN (Super Netball) and the Fever, I didn’t think the Diamonds would come around so soon.

“But I’m definitely grateful for the position I’m in at the moment.”

Full squad: Diamonds debutants a nod to the future

Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich has revealed her full squad for January’s quad series, including a pair of potential debutants in a nod to the future of Australian netball.

West Coast Fever defender Sunday Aryang joins Giants Netball shooter Sophie Dwyer in the 15-woman squad to play four games against New Zealand, England and South Africa in London from January 16-20, with the exciting pair getting a taste of international netball ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Games and the 2023 World Cup.

But the pair won’t just be handed a gold dress, with the Diamonds needing to cement their combinations in their first international tournament in almost a year.

Australia’s last international outing was in the four-game Constellation Cup series against the Silver Ferns in New Zealand in March, Marinkovich’s first tournament in charge of the Diamonds.

Sophie Dwyer has been named alongside Sunday Aryang in the Diamonds squad, with the pair possible debutants in the quad series. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Sophie Dwyer has been named alongside Sunday Aryang in the Diamonds squad, with the pair possible debutants in the quad series. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

The new coach was criticised during that competition for leaving several players on the bench as the Diamonds fell to a 3-1 series loss.

But she is not about to just share time evenly among the squad, with the quad series the Diamonds’ final chance to rehearse combinations before the Commonwealth Games starting in July.

“(Rotating players) is something we have to work through, it certainly won’t be a free for all rotation or equal court time,” Marinkovich said.

“It certainly will be purposeful in what we’re putting out there and I think that’s the balance I’ve got to find and work through in these next couple of weeks is understanding what time we need with certain people and strength of combinations as well.

“You can’t just change every quarter and expect it will be solidified.

“This is literally our last opportunity before the girls go back into that decentralised (Super Netball) program.”

But Marinkovich said she would not be inflexible either.

“I’ve also got to, while we’re away, read the moment and see what happens,” she said.

“The reality is we don’t know the complete strength of what we’ve got until we actually put it out there in competition.

“At the moment, we know our brand and style works well against Aussie to Aussie type of playing but obviously there’s a lot of different dynamics when it comes against England, New Zealand and South Africa and how does that work.”

NSW Swifts players Maddy Turner (left) and Paige Hadley have been named in the Diamonds squad for January’s quad series. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images
NSW Swifts players Maddy Turner (left) and Paige Hadley have been named in the Diamonds squad for January’s quad series. Picture: Jono Searle/Getty Images

Winning will not be the only score on which the series is judged but Marinkovich is aware of the fact the Diamonds, while still world No. 1, lost their last international series, as well as the last two major tournaments they played in the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup.

“People don’t just debut for the sake of and you certainly don’t just get to play,” she said.

“While we’ve got to see our rotations and the strength of it, there’s still an expectation that every time that combination is put out on court they have a role to play and with that is a standard of execution.

“That will never differ.

“We see things in training but we also need to see it in the competition environment.”

Despite that, the coach is excited by the prospect of talents like Aryang and Dwyer joining the squad.

Having already announced their shooters and midcourt players over the past two days, the Diamonds revealed their defenders on Friday, with Aryang, who arrived in Australia with her family from Ethiopia as a young child, among them.

Jo Weston of the Vixens is among the five defenders named in the Diamonds squad. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images
Jo Weston of the Vixens is among the five defenders named in the Diamonds squad. Picture: Albert Perez/Getty Images

“For the group that we’re taking away, you’ve got Maddy Turner, who returns back to the Diamonds line-up, and Sunday who comes in for the first time to possibly debut,” Marinkovich said.

“The versatility across defence is that hard one-on-one and we’ve got some really good, clean ball-getters as well.

“So the versatility of how we can play – and the height and strength across the group, it’ll become really exciting once the girls have got that connection because ultimately defence is built on teamwork.”

The series will be broadcast live and on-demand on Fox Sports and Kayo Freebies.

Diamonds team for January quad series

Defenders

Sunday Aryang (West Coast Fever/WA)

Courtney Bruce (West Coast Fever/WA)

Sarah Klau (NSW Swifts/SA)

Maddy Turner (NSW Swifts/SA)

Jo Weston (Melbourne Vixens/Vic)

Midcourters

Ash Brazill (Collingwood Magpies/NSW)

Paige Hadley (NSW Swifts/NSW)

Kate Moloney (Melbourne Vixens/Vic)

Jamie Lee Price (Giants Netball/NSW)

Liz Watson (Melbourne Vixens/Vic)

Shooters

Sophie Dwyer (Giants Netball/NSW)

Sophie Garbin (Collingwood Magpies/WA)

Cara Koenen (Sunshine Coast Lightning/Qld)

Gretel Tippett (Queensland Firebirds/Qld)

Steph Wood (Sunshine Coast Lightning/Qld)

*Caitlin Bassett, Kiera Austin and Kim Jenner were not considered due to injury.

Legend’s inspiring Aussie re-call confirmed

Ash Brazill never doubted her ability to return from what for many would have been a career-ending knee injury.

But to have worked her way back into the Australian netball fold less than two years after rupturing her ACL playing in the AFLW has been “shocking”.

Brazill is among five midcourters announced by the Diamonds for their quad series tour of England in January, joining captain Liz Watson, Kate Moloney, Paige Hadley and Jamie-Lee Price in the squad.

“Less than two years ago, doing my ACL and having my first season back last year, I honestly didn’t even think I’d make the squad let alone the team to go travel to England,” the Collingwood Magpies player said.

“So I was probably in a little bit of shock. I’ve only just recently had a clean-out of my knee as well, so I was in shock and excited all at once.”

Jo Weston (left) and Ash Brazill. Picture: Richard Wainwright/AAP
Jo Weston (left) and Ash Brazill. Picture: Richard Wainwright/AAP

Like Brazill, Watson is returning from injury after a foot injury ruled her out of the entire Super Netball season last year.

The Melbourne Vixens player, widely regarded as the best wing attack in the world, will return to lead the team after being named as Diamonds captain in September.

Brazill, who is set to become a parent again any day, with wife Brooke due to give birth to their second child, said regaining a place in the Diamonds squad had driven her rehab from injury.

“I never doubted not making it again,” she said.

“In previous years, not making the team was really hard and really challenging but the last Constellation Cup before I did my knee I was selected and realised this is what I want,” she said.

“I probably questioned that in the past. I wasn’t making it, is this what I want? It’s heartbreaking every time you don’t make it, (you wonder) is it worth it?

“But making the Constellation Cup, wearing the green and gold was a big moment for me and I was like, this is it, I love this.

“It was devastating when I did my knee but if I had to do it, it probably came at the right time because I was coming off something that I loved and enjoyed. I didn’t want to let that go — and had that motivation behind me to get back into it.”

Ash Brazill has overcome injury to return to the Diamonds. Picture: Martin Hunter/AAP
Ash Brazill has overcome injury to return to the Diamonds. Picture: Martin Hunter/AAP

Brazill, like all the midcourters selected has great versatility, allowing Diamonds coach Stacey Marinkovich to switch up her squad on the fly against the best teams in the world.

“The level of competitiveness between them is fantastic but the way in which they work together to push the combinations to new heights is even better,” Marinkovich said.

“Obviously they were all desperate to make the team but they all understand that what they do contributes to our overall success.

“The dynamic and mindset across the midcourt is quite extraordinary and they certainly drive the standard of training and accountability across the court and it’s really exciting when you see them all come together.

“I think there’s a really good mixture of versatility across the court, an enormous amount of athleticism.

“Our big thing is how do we get that cohesion out on court so that we can maximise that speed and movement of the ball.”

Brazill will miss the opening weeks of the AFLW season when in London with the Diamonds but is committed to playing both the footy season and a full Super Netball tournament before, she hopes, heading to the Commonwealth Games.

“Collingwood work really closely with the Diamonds as well over this. I know that netball and footy catch up and talk and I think in the end, they all want the best for me and (for me) not to get injured,” she said.

“I’ll definitely be managed on the way back in. I know both coaches want me for the full season so it’s just going to be a process of how my body reacts coming back and working me back into the system.”

Diamonds midcourters

Ash Brazill (Collingwood Magpies/NSW)

Paige Hadley (NSW Swifts/NSW)

Kate Moloney (Melbourne Vixens/Vic)

Jamie Lee Price (Giants Netball/NSW)

Liz Watson (Melbourne Vixens/Vic)

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