There is no place like home for Eboni Beckford-Chambers, who is a woman on a mission after returning to the Vitality Netball Superleague with Team Bath after spending the past five seasons on the other side of the world.
“We don't put all of these hours in every week not to come away with the title,” insisted the England defender. “It has to be the ultimate aim.”
Two years without the domestic game's top prize sitting in the trophy cabinet at the University of Bath Sports Training Village constitutes something of a drought by the Blue and Gold's incredibly high standards. They won the inaugural competition in 2006, added another three crowns in the next four seasons, and then lifted it once again in 2013 before being dethroned by Manchester Thunder.
The new campaign begins with a bang on January 30. Billed 'Super Saturday', the 2016 curtain-raiser sees all eight regional franchises in action at the Genting Arena in Birmingham. The action begins at 2pm and a clash between the most successful team in the league's history, Team Bath, and the defending champions, Surrey Storm, rounds off proceedings at 8pm.
After missing on the end-of-season play-offs for the first time last term, Team Bath have strengthened on and off the court. Former England head coach Anna Stembridge has joined forces with director of netball Jess Thirlby at the helm and the pair have made some significant close-season signings.
Beckford-Chambers, a key member of the side that dominated the Superleague in its first five seasons, will captain a 15-strong squad that also features a pair of world-class South African imports in the shape of Karla Mostert and Lenize Potgieter.
Early signs are certainly encouraging, with Team Bath seeing off big guns Storm and Thunder to win the triangular tournament they staged in November and then rounding off the month by lifting the Mike Greenwood Trophy in Manchester, defeating the hosts in the final.
“We've been training since the beginning of October and can't wait for the season to get started now,” said Beckford-Chambers. “Anna and Jess have been able to put out a few combinations and we are developing a style of netball. We can take great confidence from it. Everyone is getting on well off the court, so that is aiding our on-court performances.
“The new players have integrated and it has been such a positive environment. We are looking forward to putting our best foot forward and getting some wins on the board. We recognise that it is a process. It is game by game, quarter by quarter, minute by minute and we have to earn the right to stand on the podium at the end of the season.”
The 27-year-old worked with Stembridge at international level and said Bath was a “natural choice” when it came to deciding on her next destination. She graduated from the University of Bristol with a law degree during her previous spell with the team before heading to Australia to play in the semi-professional ANZ Championship.
She enjoyed a successful stint in Perth with West Coast Fever, where she played under legendary coach Norma Plummer and received the club's Most Valuable Player accolade twice. Beckford-Chambers moved to the Adelaide Thunderbirds for the 2015 season, two years after being named Player of the Series in England's historic 3-0 series whitewash of Australia.
She recently started a new job at Bath solicitors Mogers Drewett and her dual development both as a professional and a player is a prime example of the “Team Bath culture” that underpins the work of Thirlby and Stembridge.
“In the ANZ, only one import is allowed per team – so only ten places, in effect,” said Stembridge. “You have to be the best player in your position in the world, so the opportunities to earn money from playing netball anywhere are few and far between.
“Eboni chipped away at her law career, so when she finishes netball she is in a very strong position. I feel very proud of that. She was doing her degree and her Masters at under-21 level and some of your proudest moments as a coach come when they can achieve academic excellence alongside being a world-class athlete.”
In football, players and managers are often advised to “never go back” but Beckford-Chambers has no regrets so far.
“When I spoke to Anna and Jess they were so positive about what they were trying to create for this season,” she said. “It is my second home. It has been one of the best decisions I've made and I'm looking forward to working with the girls to make this season ours.
“Mogers Drewett are supporting me as an athlete and stretching me off the court. Hopefully that relationship will blossom in years to come. Because we aren't full-time athletes it is important to have that balance between your off-court and on-court life. I have been extremely lucky to find a firm that understands that and will support my legal aspirations.”
One of the jewels in the University of Bath's mightily impressive sporting crown, Team Bath represent a huge region that stretches from Gloucestershire in the North to Devon and Cornwall in the South and coachloads of netball fanatics from the latter two counties regularly form part of home attendances that can reach the 2,000 mark.
Sport England’s most recent Active People Survey revealed that participation in the sport is on the rise, with more than 156,000 playing the sport for at least half an hour every week, but the game at the top level in this country remains an amateur one – at least for the foreseeable future.
Beckford-Chambers said: “It is good to come back and see how English netball has developed. Even the number of supporters that we saw for our tri-tournament was overwhelming and positive to see.
“With our South Africans coming in, as well as Chelsea Lewis from Wales, it shows the internationals want to play in this league. The competition has moved forward over the past five years and probably has some way to go, but it's looking positive and the future is bright.
“We are moving in the right direction and there is a lot more public awareness of netball and commercial backing now. Even the men are coming along to games. They have been in awe as to how physical and fast it is because they remember the game from school. People who see it live love it and keep wanting to come back.”
Goal shooter Potgieter, who will operate at the opposite end of the court to Beckford-Chambers, cannot wait to get started either after demonstrating her ability in a South Africa side that finished fifth at last year's World Cup.
“Coming to Bath has been great,” she said. “It's a beautiful city and I love all of the historic places. The netball is amazing and I enjoy being with the team. The standard is so high and I am looking forward to working with Anna, who is one of the best coaches England has ever had.
“I really think we stand a good chance of getting into the final. The other teams are picking up great players but our team has gelled amazingly well.”
Beckford-Chambers is one of four players returning for a second spell at Team Bath this term alongside Sarah Penny, Amanda Varey (nee Trounce) and Jo Vann (nee Binns), while seven of last season's squad members have also been retained.
Director of netball Thirlby labelled the line-up “exciting and dynamic” when it was unveiled last month.
She added: “We have tried to help youngsters by bringing in players and strike a balance. You need the right imports, who buy into culture and lead by example.
“Eboni 'gets it' and will live and breathe the cultural values. She is a phenomenal signing for us.
“Hopefully these changes show people how serious we are about getting back and competing for top spot. It is just a few goals here and there we need, and they need to be on the other side of the scoreboard this time.”