Time-out has Tall Fern considering new calling

After her seasons in Sweden and Australia were canned by the coronavirus pandemic, Tall Fern Mary Goulding is back in New Zealand, considering a Plan B if women's basketball is benched for a while. 

Tall Fern Mary Goulding is wondering whether Covid-19 may be a sign to take her career in a new direction.

The 23-year-old Cantabrian would have been working on her craft in Australia right now if it were not for the pandemic.

In March, the outstanding US college basketballer had been in Europe playing in the Swedish League for her club, IK Eos, when, like virtually all sports around the world, the season was shut down.

The original plan was to finish the Swedish season and then head to Australia, where she would rejoin the Rockhampton Cyclones in the newly established NBL 1 competition. But that’s been cancelled too.

Now Goulding, who has a degree in theology and philosophy, is looking at going back to school at home in New Zealand to become a teacher.

“Ideally I would like to go back to Europe for another season and then go to Australia to play in NBL 1. That would be the best scenario for the next year,” she says. “But I’m also taking steps to have a Plan B option. Perhaps this whole Covid-19 situation is a sign.

“I want to go to teachers’ college, so I’m getting my application sorted. I definitely want to go back to school at some stage.”

Goulding was “really upset” that she couldn’t return to Rockhampton, where she played out her first professional contract last year in the Queensland Basketball League.

“It’s like a second home for me,” Goulding says. “I’ve talked to management there and it sounds like they will still want me next year.”

Goulding had to hastily rearrange her plans and fly back to New Zealand, where she’s spent her lockdown with sister Bernadette in their family bach in the Coromandel township of Pauanui.

After the initial self-isolation spell, Goulding made the most of the local surroundings to stay fit. “I’m kind of a workaholic so I’ve been doing a lot of running,” she says.

The sisters followed the King of the Mountain race route up and down Mt Pauanui, and Mary worked on her handles and shooting on the backyard hoop. 

Now she's back at her parents' home in North Canterbury, where she's been getting a daily workout of a different kind - painting fences, oiling decks and moving soil. "My parents have got me doing a different work out," she laughs. 

Mary Goulding looks for her Tall Ferns team-mates against Chinese Taipei in Taiwan last July. Photo: Getty Images. 

The former Rangiora High School star headed to the United States in 2015 on a college basketball scholarship.

She had a standout freshman season at Gillette College in Wyoming and was then snapped up by coach Stephanie Gaitley at New York’s Fordham University.

This time last year, Goulding had just completed her third and final year at Fordham - playing alongside fellow Kiwis Zara Jillings and Kendell Heremaia - when the Rams won their second-ever NCAA Division I Atlantic 10 conference championship.

Goulding led Fordham in a number of statistical categories in the 2018-19 season: rebounding (8.4pg), assists (2.9pg) and three-point shooting (41 from 103 at 39.8 percent).

Gaitley said Goulding’s development over the course of the season was remarkable: “Mary’s game, her leadership, and her confidence has grown every day. In my opinion, she was the most improved player in the conference.”

Her performances last season saw her receive numerous accolades: First Team All-Conference honours, most outstanding player award at the Atlantic 10 Championship and Atlantic 10 All-Academic Team.

Goulding studied pre-med for two years but graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in theology and philosophy.

“I was very grateful for my time at Fordham - it was an ideal location,” she says. “When you move on, you realise very quickly how privileged the life of a college athlete is and how many resources are no longer available to you.”

Gaitley was delighted when she heard Goulding was pursuing a professional basketball career. “She has worked very hard to achieve her goal of playing professionally. She just keeps getting better and her best is still ahead,” Gaitley said.

Goulding has some sound advice for other players who want to pursue a professional career in the game.

“There are lots of ups and downs and it’s very different playing professionally than playing for fun,” she says. “There’s more pressure and expectation on you. If you are looking to play professionally, I would recommend getting a good agent who has contacts, but also knows the way you play and what you are looking for.

“You have to know what you want in terms of contracts. You also have to be self-motivated and have to do many things for yourself.”

One area Goulding hopes others won’t follow her in is her habit of picking up injuries.

“I have managed to get a black eye in every single team I have played for, including the Tall Ferns. In Sweden, I have received two black eyes and a split lip,” she laughs.

“Playing professionally is a dream come true and an opportunity I never thought was possible, but hard work and patience has a habit of paying off.”

Last year was certainly a good year for Goulding. Her outstanding final season at Fordham rolled over to her performances for Rockhampton (she averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for the Cyclones). It was also where she caught the attention of the Tall Ferns’ coaching staff.

She debuted for the New Zealand women on their tour of Japan and Taiwan last July. Now Goulding hopes, at some stage, to get back on the court and show the New Zealand selectors how her game has evolved.

"It was a really great opportunity to get my feet wet at the international level and to play with and against some very talented and experienced players,” Goulding says of her Tall Ferns experience.

“I think it taught me a lot and showed me how much more I have to improve on.”

She can't wait to get back on court, and has signed up to play for the North Canterbury team in the D-League, the competition that underpins the NBL Women's league, if it gets off the ground this season. 

These last eight weeks have afforded her time to reflect. “Having had time to look back, I can see the improvements I made in my game,” she says. “I really enjoyed my time in Sweden; they treated me very well.

“We definitely didn’t have the desired results, but the games were always close and the competition was good.”

While her team struggled – finishing ninth on the Swedish League ladder – their New Zealand import still made an impressive contribution. Goulding was a top-10 rebounder in the competition, averaging 9.3 per game, and averaged 12.7 points and 2.1 steals per outing.

Like most athletes around the world, Goulding’s immediate future is shrouded in uncertainty. Now she has a lot to consider: continuing her basketball journey or preparing for a career away from the court?

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