Best of the Week
Six of the best: the rising stars of NZ netball
One of the windfalls from netball’s inaugural ANZ Premiership is the induction of a swarm of promising young players, especially in the year that New Zealand defends its title at the World Youth Cup. Suzanne McFadden looks at six rising stars.
MONICA FALKNER – shooter, Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.
In her first season with the Magic, Monica Falkner has already come a long way from the family farm in Matahi, on the outskirts of Whakatane, where she learned to shoot on a home-made goal constructed by her grandfather.
At Trident High School, the young shooter once quit netball, thinking it wouldn’t take her anywhere.
How wrong she was. Falkner stamped her mark on last year’s second-tier Beko League, winning five MVP awards, after coming under the wing of coach Margaret Forsyth – one of the great shooters in New Zealand netball history. Forsyth took her to the Magic this season, and continues to teach her the nuances of goal attack.
Having already played for New Zealand A, Falkner should be a shoe-in for the national under-21 team to play at this year’s World Youth Cup in Botswana.
Although both newbies, Falkner has already built a strong rapport with South African goal shoot Lenize Potgeiter. In seven games so far, she has an impressive shooting success rate of 83 percent.
At 181cm, she’s not exceedingly tall for a shooter, but she has a strong presence in the circle, with athleticism and a sure-fire shot. Her cool head under the post has already seen her become a game-clincher this season.
TIANA METUARAU – shooter, Central Pulse
At just 16, Tiana Metuarau has the stature, poise and skill of a netballer who’s been around the traps forever. Of course, she’s been around the courts all her life, as the daughter of former Silver Fern captain and coach Wai Taumaunu.
Her meteoric rise has been well-documented: Metuarau got a taste for top-level netball last season at 15, playing for Central in the Beko League, before being called into the Pulse this season to replace Silver Fern Ameliaranne Ekenasio, due to give birth to her first child any day now.
The teen has a wealth of advice on tap; from Ekenasio; Pulse shooting coach Irene van Dyk; and her shooting partner in the Pulse circle, the wise Cat Tuivaiti.
It’s taken little time for her to take ownership of the goal attack role – shooting, feeding and rebounding with confidence and a high work-rate. In her last game against the table-topping Steel, she took the lion’s share of shooting from Tuivaiti, one of the most prolific shooters in the league. She could win further accolades this year if she retains her place in the NZU21 team bound for Botswana.
Metuarau’s parents are happy for her to play at the top level, as long as the Year 12 at Wellington East Girls’ College keeps on top of her homework.
WHITNEY SOUNESS – midcourt, Central Pulse
Whitney Souness is a classic Kiwi netball success story. A determined young player who worked her way into the elite ranks, she was stopped in her tracks by a devastating knee injury as a teenager, but has battled her way back to the top.
Souness was a stand-out midcourter at St Mary’s College in Wellington, when she came under the mentorship of former Pulse and Samoa captain, Frances Solia. With improved fitness and sharper footwork, she was chosen for the New Zealand Secondary Schools side, where she became one of the stars.
But her progress came to a cruel halt in 2015 while playing in the final of the national provincial championships for Wellington. Trying to stop the ball from going out of court, Souness ruptured her ACL – the trademark netball injury. It would take her out of the Silver Ferns trials, and banish her to the sidelines for much of 2016.
Now, the 21-year-old from Porirua has worked her way into the Pulse side and made up for lost time. The lay-off has taught her patience, which is reflected in her game, while she’s also learning how to best use her speed and quick reactions.
ARIANA CABLE-DIXON – midcourt, Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic
You won’t find her name in the Magic team biographies – Ariana Cable-Dixon wasn’t even in the playing squad at the start of this year. A training partner, she was promoted into the Magic side to replace injured teenager Sydney Fraser, and is now a stunning weapon in their arsenal.
A product of Te Awamutu, 23-year-old Cable-Dixon is another player who was shaped by Margaret Forsyth in last year’s Beko League. As co-captain of the WBOP team she made her mark as a quiet leader, and a fit, quick-thinking midcourter.
This season, she’s been starting at centre for the Magic, making the most of her speed and agility, and proving quick to make connections with her new team-mates.
At high school – St Peter’s College in Cambridge – her speed came to the fore as a top track and field athlete. And, of course, she was a naturally talented netballer, lining up in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Maori team from the age of 15.
She puts her commitment to training down to one of her netball idols, Laura Langman; they did early-morning training sessions together before Langman moved to Australia.
MICHAELA SOKOLICH-BEATSON – defender, Northern Mystics
She’s the perfect example of how a great netballer doesn’t have to hail from a traditional big netball school.
Michaela Sokolich-Beatson is a proud graduate of Whangaparaoa College, north of Auckland, where she made a name for herself as a gifted and gutsy defender.
In 2014, she was spotted and selected for the New Zealand schools side, and turned out to be the star performer at the international schoolgirls’ netball challenge across the Tasman – even while nursing a back injury from a collision with a goalpost.
A health and physical education degree student at the University of Auckland, Sokolich-Beatson made her debut for the Mystics in the Trans-Tasman league last year, but also played in the second-tier Beko League.
This year, she’s earned a regular spot in the starting seven for the Mystics; her fast, mobile style complimenting the hugely experienced Anna Harrison in the defence circle. So far this season, Sokolich-Beatson has made seven intercepts and 13 deflections. She’s another player in contention for the World Youth Cup in Gaborone in July.
ABBY ERWOOD – defender, Southern Steel
The grand-daughter of one of the original Silver Ferns, and one half of identical netballing twins, Abby Erwood is making her own name in her second season with the Steel.
You have to feel for Erwood, who spent most of last season on the bench for the Steel until being called on unexpectedly to make her debut amidst the cauldron of the New Zealand conference final (which the Steel lost by two to the Magic).
Undeterred by that baptism of fire, 20-year-old Erwood returned to cement her place in the strong Steel line-up as a tough, fearless defender, with six intercepts and 13 deflections on her scorecard this season.
Her twin sister Sophie is a promising shooter. Together they helped South win the inaugural Beko League last season. Growing up in tiny South Otago town of Waitahuna West, the twins’ netball careers were inspired by their late grandmother, Shirley Annan – Silver Fern #28 who played for New Zealand in 1960.
A commerce student at Otago University, Abby Erwood is likely to be recalled into the New Zealand under-21 team for the World Youth Cup.