BENDIGO-based Netball Victoria board member Carol Cathcart has praised Caitlin Thwaites for never forgetting her netball roots.
The 33-year-old announced on Monday she would be retiring from Suncorp Super Netball at the end of the 2020 season.
Bendigo-born and raised Thwaites is aiming to exit the top-level a winner, with the Vixens set to take on Sunshine Coast Lightning in this Saturday's semi-finals, after finishing as runaway minor premiers.
Cathcart, who was an assistant coach with the Vixens in their foundation year in 2008 and also their first premiership year in 2009 during Thwaites' first stint with the club, said the former Diamonds star had never lost sight of her origins.
"She has always been really available and engaging in helping regional athletes and certainly helps out when she can in Bendigo, given this is where she is from," she said.
"She certainly always recognises the fact Bendigo is where she is from.
"She will be a loss to the sport, but she has had an amazing career.
"I don't think we will lose her from the sport entirely or the sporting industry, I think she still has a lot to give."
Thwaites, who announced her international retirement last October after 55 tests for the Diamonds, has played 230 national league games.
She only recently surpassed a pair of other former Diamonds stars, who also started their careers in central Victoria, in her former Vixens team-mate Sharelle McMahon (227 games) and Rebecca Bulley (228 games).
Cathcart, AFL Central Victoria's regional general manager and a former BFNL inter-league netball coach, said regardless of where the Vixens finished the season, Thwaites would be leaving netball on top.
"She is playing exceptionally well at the moment and has really reinvented herself as a goal attack this year," she said.
"Caitlin is really showing that sometimes when you are given a challenge, it's all about how you approach it and your mindset.
"She has certainly taken the challenge on board and is really playing exceptionally.
"In my time at the Vixens, I got to work quite a lot with the shooting end and I was really fortunate to work with her and Sharelle at that time.
"She has always certainly been keen to improve her game and be involved and has always wanted to give back and help out where she can. She really is a delightful person."
Revealing her decision to retire on the same day as her team-mate and fellow shooter Tegan Philip, Thwaites pointed to a shift in priorities and the demands of being an elite athlete and away from family as key influences.
After a season like no other due to the coronavirus pandemic and one Thwaites herself described as 'crazy', Cathcart said she was not entirely surprised by the announcement.
"This year has certainly been a lot more challenging than other years, people have had to move away from home and from support-bases," she said.
"There will no doubt be a lot of other things Caitlin will want to do in her life and she will do them very well.
"Back when I was up at the AIS, Caitlin was up there with volleyball. She is no doubt a talented athlete and we are very lucky she chose netball."
Bendigo Academy of Sport netball program head coach Melissa Ryan believed central Victorian athletes could find no better role model than Thwaites.
"Caitlin has always been an inspirational athlete for our local regional players," she said.
"With her dedication and hard work, she has shown how you can still come from a regional area and make it to the top and become a Diamond.
"She has never shied away from coming back to her home region and helping out with clinics and has always been on hand to be an ambassador for her sport and region."
After 18 incredible seasons, @CaitlinThwaites will run out for one last time this finals series 🤍 Caity, you have one of the biggest hearts in netball, and are so incredibly loved and respected by the entire netball family 🥰 Thanks for the memories.— Melbourne Vixens (@MelbourneVixens) September 27, 2020
Congratulations @teganphilip & @CaitlinThwaites on fantastic careers. Thank you for inspiring the next generation of elite athletes in Victoria, you will be missed! 👏👏 #Vixens4Life READ: https://t.co/gKtAjv7bQ2pic.twitter.com/safrVnJIFn— Victorian Institute of Sport (@VicInstSport) September 28, 2020
Ryan said Thwaites - a former member of the academy of sport as a teenage volleyballer - continued to lend her support to the academy when approached and had distinguished herself as a legend on and off the court.
"She is still playing at her best now, so it's a bit of a shame she is stepping away," she said.
"Caitlin is probably playing the best netball she has possibly played. She's added the versatility to her game with her movement in the goal circle and being that utility player.
"I think she's playing her best because she looks to be at her happiest.
"Let's hope she goes out with a championship, but let's also hope she's not lost to the sport and continues to be an inspiration to our region's players."
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