Three Villa Maria College representative netballers are also going places fast off the court.
All three are key members of the school’s Senior A netball side and are in the Netball Mainland Baby Beko squad, while also each excelling in other sports.
Georgia Stroud is year 13 and plays in the midcourt and is a middle distance runner and national U19 surf life saving champion. Hannah Glen is year 13 and a goal shoot and goal attack and a recent Maadi Cup rowing medallist. Olivia Burnham is year 12 and a defender and a track runner and Pathway to Podium athlete.
Georgia says that school netball has been underway since the start of this term. “We have been playing since the start of the term and this Saturday we have a promotion-relegation match to move up to the Premier 2 grade, which would be good as it’s really competitive this year.”
The Premier 2 club netball grade in the Christchurch Netball Centre competitions is the grade that the top secondary school teams play in. The leading Canterbury schools also play in the secondary school SuperNet competition on Wednesdays, which runs until late August and features a first round-robin followed by a top four-bottom four series.
Last year Villa Maria finished fourth in the School Sport Canterbury SuperNet competition, losing to Ashburton College 42-30 in the third placed playoff.
Making the NZSS nationals this year is a definite goal for Villa Maria, who have got a strong record at the national tournament but not in recent years, having won in 2008 and finished in the top four on three occasions prior to that.
Last year, rivals Christchurch Girls’ High School and St Andrew’s College were the two Christchurch schools represented at nationals, and to qualify this year Villa Maria must finish in the top five at the SISS Championships in Winter Tournament Week.
Representative netball tournaments are also in July. “Hannah and I just got named in the Canterbury U19s and Olivia has been selected in the U17s,” says Georgia who will be pushing for selection in the final New Zealand secondary school team that plays matches against the Australian U17s in Canberra in September. Georgia was the only Canterbury player selected in this year’s 23-strong initial NZSS squad following the camp in Cambridge that all three players were invited to.
The Netball Mainland Baby Beko squad that all three are in is unique amongst the six franchises in that it is the highest elite franchise squad for Mainland secondary school netballers. Unlike the other five franchises, school players are not eligible for selection in the Beko of Tactix squads.
As well as netball, Georgia is busy with two other sports. “Over the summer I do athletics and surf-lifesaving,” she enthuses.
In February at the National Surf Life Saving Championships in Gisborne, she won gold in the U19km beach run and backed that up with silver in the open women’s 2km beach run.
On the track, she’s a middle distance runner, racing the 400m, 800m and 1500m distances.
Georgia won the Senior Girls 800m at the SISS Athletics championships in Timaru in March, in a time that would have seen her medal at the NZSS Championships in December.
Also at the SISS meet in March, Villa Maria’s 4 x 400m team of Georgia, Olivia, Julia Burnham (Olivia’s sister and year 10) and Kate Davies (year 11) not only won the SISS title but they also set a new SISS record time of 3.58.16.
The NZSS Senior Girls 4 x 400m record is 3.58.41, set by Howick College in 2009, so the Villa Maria team is looking forward to competing at this year’s national championships in Dunedin. Last year they won silver at nationals, after winning this same event in 2016.
Georgia gets her sporting talent from her family. Her mother Helen is a former Black Ferns rugby player and Canterbury netball representative and the Villa Maria’s Senior A netball coach, while her father Alan is a former All Whites goal-keeper.
As well as being in the Baby Beko netball squad, Olivia is in her second year in the Pathway to Podium programme for athletics.
A 400m runner and hurdler, Olivia says the March’s SISS 4 x 400m win and record was good personal reward following a difficult past few months.
“I spent the summer coming back from a netball injury I got at the U17 nationals last year. I went over on my ankle and I was out for about six weeks. That also put my training back and it was really hard for me.”
Olivia is focusing on netball, while also training for athletics over the winter.
“It is quite hard switching between athletics and netball, they are two completely different sports so that is a challenge,” explains Olivia.
“It is just a matter of being able to keep the consistency with my training and balancing out netball and athletics.”
Hannah is kept busy rowing in the summer and playing netball in the winter.
“I got bronze in the U18 quad at Maadi Cup. The other crew members were Kathryn Glen, Charlotte Freeman, Madeleine Davidson and our cox Emily Beattie.
“Kathryn is my cousin who got named in the NZ Junior rowing team rowing team and won bronze in the U18 single sculls.”
Previously, the crew had won the U18 quad at the SISS rowing championships. “This put us in a good position going forward to the Maadi Cup, we all knew we had a chance to do well. We qualified sixth for the final and pulled forward and finished third.”
This is only Hannah’s second year of rowing, after winning bronze in 2017 in the U17 double with Kathryn at her first Maadi Cup.
Like Olivia with her athletics, Hannah says that the adjustment from elite rowing and netball is a challenge. “The crossover from the two sports is quite difficult, getting the footwork back as opposed to sitting down on a boat, and also because the two seasons clash as one finishes and another starts.”
Khiarna Williams is a welcome addition to the Waikato Bay of Plenty Beko development league netball squad this season.
On Sunday, the year 11 Trident High School goalshoot played the second half of WBOP’s competition opening game over Netball South, shooting 16 from 23 in the 47-39 win.
Waikato Bay of Plenty Performance Manager Ruth Aitken says that Khiarna is making a positive contribution to the WBOP Beko squad and brings maturity to her game that is well beyond her years.
“Khiarna is a tall, strong shooter with courage to go the post when she receives the ball and is composed under pressure and seems to really love the competitiveness of elite netball,” says former Silver Ferns coach Aitken.
“The key to her readiness for netball at this level is her coachability and her determination to learn and improve She has a really supportive family support network and also Trident High School and Whakatane Netball Centre have been really supportive of this opportunity for Khiarna.”
We recently caught up with Khiarna. Some questions and answers are below.
How are you enjoying being in the Beko squad and do you feel you are improving your game?
Yes I’m really enjoying it all. I definitely think that I’m improving my game – the structures that we are learning in training are really helpful. The calibre of netball is a huge step up for me from school. Personally, I think I am improving, just because I’m always learning new things.
How have the older players taken you under their wing?
All the WBOP players are really helpful and nurturing – especially some of the more experienced players and they are really good communicators and give really good feedback. But they also ask me for feedback – which gives me the confidence to say things to them as well.
Tell us about the process of you being picked in this squad and your selection reactions?
We had two selections for the Beko WBOP squad. Last October was the trial to make the wider training squad and then in February was the final trial to name the squad to play in the Beko competition. Both my selections were a really big surprise. I didn’t think I would have made them as there were lots of really talented players. But the second trial that was what stunned me the most. I just didn’t think it would be for me this year, being so much younger. It was a big surprise.
You were also selected in the NZSS squad earlier this year?
In January this year we had the Netball NZ’s National Development Camp which was held in Cambridge, and the NZSS squad was named after that camp. It was a really cool experience getting to know lots of different girls from the big schools like MAGS and St Kent’s. I learned a lot from the coaches as well. The squad is all busy training and playing in their home regions and we keep connected with a team app where we have activities to complete. After the NNZ U17 and U19 national tournaments in July, the final team will be named to travel to Canberra to play the Aussies.
You live and go to school in Whakatane - so is there quite a bit of travelling for you?
I am really lucky as I live near the Beko Coach, MJ. So most Tuesdays and Thursdays she picks me up after school and we travel to Cambridge for training. MJ drives and I just sleep!
You are a shooter - have you always been a shooter or have you played other positions?
I first started playing netball when I was five – and I played centre till I was about eight. Then I was moved to defence because of my height and I stayed in defence during the rest of primary school. In year 8 my rep coach (who was also my nan!) put me to shooter. It was a big surprise but it seemed to be quite natural for me and she taught me the basics of shooting. When I went to back to school I started playing both ends – defence or shooter, whatever the team needed. Then at Trident High School, my coach Te Ahuru Waititi kept me at shooter and that was when I really started to get confident. She has had a huge impact in developing my game.
Do you have a favourite netball memory thus far?
My favourite memory would have to be last year our Eastern BoP U15 team won B Grade at the North Island tournament. The year before we had an injury to our main GA and that brought down our confidence. We lost our semi and didn’t make the finals. But the next year, we all stepped up and we did the job, which felt great.
Apart being with the WBOP Beko squad, what other netball are you playing this season?
My school team plays on a Saturday in Whakatane and on Friday night at Harbourside. I am also in the Eastern BOP U17 rep team who will compete in Palmerston North in the July holidays. However currently the WBOP Beko programme is my first priority and when possible I am able to play for my other teams. The main tournament for school netball is the Upper North Islands (UNISS), after the Beko competition is finished.
Tell us about other sports you play and what successes have you had?
Yes I also play volleyball. Trident High School is very strong at both volleyball and netball. Last year when I was in Year 10 we won Junior North Islands and also the Senior Nationals. This year Trident also qualified for volleyball nationals again. These were held in March, so I was given leave from the Beko programme to play. Now the volleyball season is over and I am concentrating on netball, but I am looking forward to playing volleyball again in the summer.
Downtime is a precious commodity for Columba College’s Meg Sycamore who is currently juggling her two sports Touch and netball to a high level - and there’s a lot to look forward to with both over the next few months.
The year 12 student is fully committed to putting her best foot forward in both, being in the New Zealand U18 Touch squad preparing for the Youth World Cup in Malaysia in early August and being the youngest squad member of the Netball South Beko netball team that starts their national development competition campaign this coming weekend.
Selection came recently for both the Netball South Beko squad and the New Zealand U18 Touch teams.
In February, Meg was a key member of the Otago U18 team that won the national junior touch championships in Auckland. This was Otago’s maiden junior national touch title of any sort since the competition started in 2011. They won in a splash – their final against Waikato unable to be played because of heavy rain meaning they were awarded the title after beating them 7-4 in round-robin play.
Following that, Touch New Zealand selected 60 girls and 60 boys to attend a camp in the recent school holidays and former New Zealand U16 girls and U15 mixed player Meg made the team. Columba College teammate and fellow co-captain McKayler Moore will also be on the plane to Malaysia with Meg.
Columba College coach Dayna Turnbull is also the New Zealand Senior Women’s Touch captain so she will be keeping the pair and other Dunedin players busy with regular skills sessions over the winter.
The Netball South Beko squad selection came more of a surprise for Meg who plays either centre of wing attack.
“At the end of last year they named a Beko training squad, but I wasn’t part of this at all. Then I was picked to go the national schools development camp in Cambridge at the end of January and then I returned and was invited to trial for Netball South and was picked from there.”
She says her netball game has already come on in leaps and bounds just being part of the squad.
“I am shorter than everyone else so I have to work hard, but I feel I am getting so much better and that I have already learnt so much training with this squad because it’s so different to school netball, with the extra physicality and the skill level.”
Meg is one of three schoolgirls in Netball South’s Beko squad, along with Tanisha Fifita (Waitaki Girls’ High School) and Tyra Dunn (Verdon College).
This coming weekend Netball South plays its opening Beko match in Te Aroha against Waikato Bay of Plenty and then meets the Northern Marvels in Auckland in round two. Meg says she is not part of the opening match, but says she is sure to have a big crowd of friends and family supporting her when she plays at home or in Invercargill for the first time.
Meg says there are many similarities between training for netball and Touch at the same time. “The netball and Touch fitness components complement each other, so I’m not having to do too much extra fitness. But skill-wise it’s really different with the different balls so I like to keep my Touch skills up when not training for netball.”
In school competitions, Meg says Columba College’s Senior A netball team exceeded expectations last year, but they weren’t entirely satisfied with their finish at the NZSS Touch nationals in December.
“Last year we finished fifth at the school nationals and were a bit disappointed after coming second the year before [to Hamilton Girls’ High School]. This year we are hoping to do much better!
“We qualified fourth from the South Island [five spots available] for the NZSS netball nationals in December but we weren’t expecting this.”
In fact Columba College had to relinquish their spot at the NZSS netball tournament and sixth placed Ashburton College took their place.
One of the coaches had already booked a holiday at the same time, while Meg and three other players were already booked to travel with the school’s Touch team to a big tournament in Australia immediately prior to nationals.
Columba were subsequently knocked out of that All-Queensland Touch tournament by North Island rivals Hamilton Girls’ High School.
Meg says that Dunedin’s St Hilda’s Collegiate are big rivals on the Touch field and netball court. “Last year St Hilda’s were very strong in netball.” Both teams play Dunedin club netball on Saturdays and last year St Hilda’s played in a higher grade and convincingly won all their matches when they did meet on their way to winning the South Island title for the second consecutive year. In Touch, Columba was South Island champions in March, beating St Hilda’s 7-1 in the final.
Like last year several Columba players play in both teams, these being: Meg Sycamore, McKayler Moore, Maia Joseph, Abbey Anderson, Kate Turnbull, Madi Williams and Jess Cowie.
Last year was Meg’s first year in the Senior A netball team, while she has been in the touch side since year nine.
Meg says the support of her coaches has been immense in getting her to this level and hopefully higher in the future, not least Touch coach Dayna Turnbull who is also the head of sport at Columba College.
“Dayna has put so much time and effort into me as a person and a player and all the other girls that play Touch. She is such a good role model. She trains and works so hard and is always offering to help us.”
That’s not all Meg plays. She plays sevens rugby and basketball for her school when time allows and has a background in gymnastics, cross country running and swimming, where she won plenty of Otago regional age group medals and also collected an age group bronze at a national level in the 200m IM.
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