She got involved in the sport fairly late and almost by chance – and went on to achieve the highest level as an international player.
That is the remarkable journey University of Johannesburg netball coach Bongiwe Msomi has taken over the past decade and a half.
The South African captain, who led the national side to the World Cup semifinals in England earlier this year, joined the UJ operation last month.
But none of that might have happened had she not gone to watch her friend play the sport at high school.
The 31-year-old Msomi recalled how, when she was in Grade 11 at Luthayi High in 2005, she went to watch a netball practice.
“When I got there they only had 13 players and as they wanted a full-court practice, the coach [Thembisa Mncwabe] was asked if I could join in,” she said.
She was given permission by the coach and after some initial hesitation about her ability, Msomi soon adopted netball as her new passion.
That was the start of a career which would take her around the world representing her country while also securing contracts to play professionally in both England and Australia.
The Proteas captain, however, has not forgotten her roots or the start Mncwabe gave her in the sport.
“He has been such a big part of my netball life, often helping to pay for kit which we could not afford in the early days.
“And today he still gives me advice, making sure that I keep my feet on the ground. Sometimes when people tell me I played well he will suggest that I should have done this or should have done that.”
Having made her mark in the game during the latter stages of her school career, Msomi, who grew up in Hammarsdale near Durban, underlined her ability as a player and leader by captaining the national U21 side in 2009.
She graduated to the senior side in 2011 and has captained the national team since 2016, earning a total of 104 caps so far.
After competing for South Africa in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, Msomi’s career moved in another direction, but only after an amusing incident involving her introduction to the professional arena.
Clearly having impressed talent scouts at the Games in Scotland, she received a Facebook message in 2015 about playing professionally in the United Kingdom.
“At that stage of my life I really wasn’t exposed to or aware of these sorts of opportunities,” said Msomi.
“I actually thought it was some sort of scam and ignored it until I spoke to my coach a few weeks later and he explained the situation and said it was probably the real thing.”
Once she made contact, a new experience awaited her and she turned out for Surrey Storm and Wasps in the English Super Leagues.
Further experience was gained last year when Msomi spent some time in the Suncorp Super League in Australia playing for Adelaide Thunderbirds.
While that has been invaluable in her all-round development as a player, Msomi says there is still nothing to match representing your country.
“Every time my name is announced in the national squad there is a feeling of excitement,” she said. “It is something I will never take for granted.
“I love having the opportunity to help empower women and I want to give hope to all girls in the South African community.
“Sport has the power to change things. For instance, I have become much more confident from being involved in netball.
“I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and am grateful to many people behind the scenes who have made this all possible.”
Msomi completed a national diploma in sport management in 2012 at the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and worked as an ambassador for the Girls Only Project, an initiative that deals with the empowerment of women and girls through sport. She also founded the Bongi Msomi Netball Project (BMNetball).
Having made her mark on the court she is looking forward to the opportunities which lie ahead in her position as UJ netball manager and coach.
“I have an awesome opportunity as a UJ netball coach to showcase what I can do for others through the sport. I am really excited for what lies ahead,” she said.
“I believe that passion, leadership skills, valuable knowledge and experience, confidence, fairness, and time management make a good coach.
“I feel I have a lot to offer the Orange Army. This is an exciting step not only for me, but also for the ladies I will be working with and for the University of Johannesburg.”
CAPTION: University of Johannesburg members (from the left) Liphiwe Nxasana (sport scientist), Nomsa Zungu (assistant coach), Bongiwe Msomi (coach) and players Twanette Thoms and Kendra Szeles take part in the opening ceremony for one of their Varsity Netball matches. Photo: Van Zyl Naude