Lightning grommet born to succeed
GROWING up on a tropical island in Far North Queensland, life is about more than just coconuts and palm trees.
For Cara Koenen, one of Sunshine Coast Lightning's star shooters, life growing up on Magnetic Island was about family, the great outdoors and of course, sport.
As one of four kids, Cara said you were never in search of an opponent and in the Koenen family - everything was a competition.
"We are all close in age, so we grew up very close and played sport quite competitively against each other,” Cara said.
"Mum signed us up for anything she could get us into. We were doing surf lifesaving, swimming, athletics, acrobatics, literally everything.”
"If we weren't playing sport we'd be outdoors exploring, creating stuff or heading down to the beach. I feel really lucky to have the upbringing that I did because we literally had the beach on our doorstep and were surrounded by so much wildlife and nature. It's not very busy on the island, so we pretty much had free rein to do whatever we wanted to do.”
Turns out this ingrained active lifestyle benefitted the Koenen kids quite well. With eldest Bree getting signed to the Brisbane Lions in the WAFL, Cara getting signed on the inaugural Lightning team as the youngest player to receive a contract, younger sister Alyssa representing Australia for pool rescue lifesaving and the baby of the four, Dirk joined the Gold Coast Suns Training Academy at age 16.
Now living on the Sunshine Coast after a few years spent in Brisbane, Cara said she's come to love the laidback sleepy lifestyle the region has to offer. Just like her home town people here are 'of a friendly type' willing to spark up conversation, well, pretty much anywhere.
"I think spending a few years living in Brisbane really opened my eyes to how much I appreciate living as part of a community because you really don't get any sense of community when you live in a big city,” Cara said.
"It's like a little bubble, the people that you immediately interact with are the only ones you interact with. Whereas in places like the Sunshine Coast and Magnetic Island, you go out on the street and you'll run into people who are willing to have a friendly chat all the time.”
It's not always easy being the youngest in a team of professional athletes whose life and court experience far outweigh your own, but in the 2019 Suncorp Super Netball season it was time for Cara to finally hand over this baton to fellow teammate Annika Lee-Jones.
In the previous 2017 and 2018 seasons Cara was Lightning's resident grommet, however, the budding talent was able to utilise this to her advantage both professionally and personally.
"I've matured a lot having stepped up into a professional sporting environment. I've had to really get myself organised to stay on top of everything, so I can balance all aspects of my life,” Cara said.
"I'm learning so much from every single one of the girls, not even just in terms of netball skills but just life lessons. We've formed some really close friendships and we really rely on each other, especially in those first few years.”
Receiving her first super netball contract at just 19 years old, in an era where athletes are hitting their netball peaks in their mid-twenties and early thirties, Cara said she was shocked to get the initial call up from Lightning head coach Noeline Taurua.
It's been a steep learning curve and at times a very challenging road but it's a responsibility that Cara has well and truly risen to.
"It's very cool that Noeline took a risk on me without knowing much about me. I saw that she got me onboard because she wanted to develop me for the future, which is what Noeline and Kylie do well at Lightning. They're not just looking for what team is going to perform best this year, but they are also looking toward the future at what players they can develop.”
Off the netball court you'll most likely catch Cara at the local beach hanging out with her gorgeous golden retriever Lola, while some may claim Cara's Insta fame has arisen from her hot-shot sporting career, others may say they're just in it for the doggo snaps.