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Nichole Taljaard, left, battles for the ball with Samantha Browne of Barbados at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Picture: Elsa/Getty Images
Nichole Taljaard, left, battles for the ball with Samantha Browne of  Barbados at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.  Picture: Elsa/Getty Images

If it is not already Nichole Taljaard’s lucky number, she may well consider changing it to five.

SA’s new national netball star is back in town and has barely had five minutes to sit down and let her achievement sink in.

She returned from the recent Fast5 World Series in New Zealand, the 10th edition of the fast and furious version of netball, having been named player of the series and helping the Proteas pick up a silver medal, their best result of the format to date.

There has been little time to celebrate though, as she came back straight into the final exams of her second university degree (first BSc Sports Science and now Post Graduate Certificate in Education) and then rushing off to a training camp before the upcoming Spar Diamond Challenge in Pretoria.

And it was in Pretoria where Taljaard took time out to share her success, with a frenetic taxi-rank providing a lively background soundtrack.

Cape Town born and bred, the 25-year-old is one of five siblings and took up netball at the age of five — hence the common theme of five.

“My oldest sister was playing netball and they needed someone to fill in, I loved it and have never stopped,” she says. “With there being five of us, time was always precious so I played at least five different sports at primary school, depending on our transport schedule.”

She has also played in at least five different positions in her netball career before finally settling back into goal-attack and turning full-circle to where she started.

Fast5 fame is fresh in her mind right now, and she’s happy, yet humble.

“The Player-of-the-Series award totally shocked me ... I was just flabbergasted. I don’t think I came anywhere close to how some of the other players performed. 

“And I definitely don’t think I’m in my best form of my life ... I have so, so much to improve on and I reckon I’m only at about 50%-60% of my capacity to learn, get new skills and become stronger.

“I mean ... I played against people I’ve admired all my life, and still won this award. It just hasn’t hit me yet.”

Nothing to date has hit her like the loss of her mom, Dierdré, to cancer three years ago, the day before she was due to report to a national training camp. “She was my biggest fan in so many ways. It was incredibly heartbreaking to lose her but right until the end she was there as a mother, always reassuring the rest of her family.”

Her family stepped straight into the breach though. “My father [Carel] is 100% into netball, he watches all my games and analyses them for meand my family are constantly checking on my career and wellbeing.”

She also has fiancé Tommie Breedt as yet another life-anchor. “We’ve been together for about 10 years and became engaged about 18 months ago.” Marriage plans? “It’s so funny, whenever we get asked, he says: ‘whenever Nichole has a weekend off from netball’.”

Back to business though and Taljaard says that the Fast5 was a whirlwind. “It’s so fast from start to finish. You play six to eight games in two days and we just had two or three days to prepare as a team. You’re barely into the game and the first quarter has already gone.”

And by and large, the Protea players had no great expectations of success in Christchurch. “Most of us players thought we were going in as such underdogs, in fact we doubted we’d win a single game against teams that had played much more of the shorter version.

“But we took the approach that we had nothing to lose and we trained as hard as we could, did our best and I think we really showed what we as South Africans have to offer.”

The Proteas ended up beating defending champions and hosts New Zealand in the round-robin stages before narrowly going down to Australia in the final.

And despite that this was the fast format of the code, Taljaard’s take is that it can only be positive for SA who host the Netball World Cup in Cape Town next year.

“This silver will be a huge boost and show the world that we need to be taken seriously.”

The good news for SA netball is that now that her studies are behind her she’s willing to sacrifice her first year of work to put everything into her Proteas career.

“I’ve told my fiancé and my dad that, should I have my Proteas contract renewed, I’d really like to put work on hold to focus 100% on my netball for the first time in my life without having to worry about studies.”

Family comes first to the Taljaards. “They’re my biggest supporters, we need very little reason for a celebration, but they keep me grounded at the same time.”

Grounded in one manner, maybe but with dad Carel taking aim at Bisley SA shooting championships next year and Nichole shooting the lights out for the Proteas, this family is reaching for the stars ... and high-five to them.

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