Mum’s the word at Severn Stars ahead of the eagerly awaited start of the 2022 Vitality Netball Superleague season.

The playing and coaching staff at the franchise, a partnership between University of Gloucestershire and the University of Worcester, includes five mothers with 17 children between them – enough to field two netball teams.

They are former New Zealand international duo Cathrine Tuivaiti and Liana Leota, Fiji international Dee Bolakoro (also a Lance Corporal with British Army 22 Engineer Regiment), plus head coach Melissa Bessell and assistant coach Christine Weaver.

Their involvement in elite sport after having children mirrors the feats of tennis legend Serena Williams, Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and cycling great Laura Kenny, while former England netball head coach Tracey Neville has spoken about returning to top-level coaching following the birth of her first child.

Melissa Bessell said: “As the likes of Serena Williams, Laura Kenny and Jessica Ennis-Hill have perfectly illustrated, becoming a mum shouldn’t in any way become a barrier to taking part in sport at any level. In fact, it should be celebrated and embraced.

“As a diverse and inclusive organisation, we’re really proud that so many members of the Severn Stars family have had children and are now back playing or coaching at an elite level in the Vitality Netball Superleague.

“We firmly believe that with the right support system in place, being a mum and playing netball can be combined, should the player wish to do so – it shouldn’t be a case of being able to do only one or the other.

“All our coaches and players share our commitment to providing everyone at Severn Stars with as much support as we can to ensure they’re able to perform at their highest level on and off court.

“While some of our players and coaches have nannies to help with their child-caring responsibilities, they can, of course, also always count on support from a team of adopted ‘aunties’ – their coaches and team-mates!”

Severn Stars, who play their home games at University of Gloucestershire and the University of Worcester, will play their opening match of the Vitality Netball Superleague season against Surrey Storm at Resort World, Birmingham on Saturday 5 February, followed by a clash with Manchester Thunder at the same Midlands venue the following day.

Their first home league matches of the season will be against Saracen Mavericks at the University of Worcester Arena on Sunday 20 February and against Team Bath at the University of Gloucestershire Arena on Saturday 26 February.

The squad includes Northern Ireland Warriors international Michelle Drayne, Wales international Bethan Dyke, former Surrey Storm midcourter Nicole Humphries and experienced super shooter Katie Harris who has signed from Wasps.

Another important playing recruit for the Stars, which recently appointed Claire Sanders as General Manager, is former England U21 and England Roses squad member, Summer Artman, who has joined from Team Bath.

University of Worcester Sports Master’s student Lucy Herdman will be returning for another season in the Stars defence, while two University of Gloucestershire students, shooter Jane Taylor and midcourter Chloe Carchrie, are among the training partners.

Looking ahead to the new season, Melissa Bessell said: “We’ve put together an exciting squad of experienced players, rising stars and up-and-coming talent that has the potential to be a real force this season.

“After all the issues caused by the pandemic, which meant matches were played centrally last season, the players are looking forward to going ‘home’ and producing winning performances in front of our fans at University of Gloucestershire and the University of Worcester.”

Tickets for University of Worcester Arena and University of Gloucestershire Arena matches are now on sale.