Steel midcourter Heffernan Birmingham-bound

Captain Gina Crampton (second from left) and her Silver Ferns line up for official photographs in...
Captain Gina Crampton (second from left) and her Silver Ferns line up for official photographs in Auckland yesterday at the naming of the New Zealand netball squad for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Kate Heffernan knew she was ready.

It was not the 22-year-old’s first time trialling for the Silver Ferns.

Her past experiences, though, had been more about learning - understanding the environment and the level of play and intensity.

This time, she was there to show she belonged.

And that she did.

The Southern Steel midcourter is bound for Birmingham, having secured a spot in the Silver Ferns Commonwealth Games squad.

She joins fellow Steel star Shannon Saunders in the midcourt, alongside former Steel wing attack Gina Crampton, who will captain the team, and Central Pulse wing attack Whitney Souness.

Unlike the others, Heffernan is yet to make her test debut for the team.

She played against the Aotearoa Men last year, while making it on to the bench against England.

That debut is surely imminent, and the centre-wing defence said she was excited to get going.

It came after a gruelling three-day trial, in which Heffernan said the players had been pushed hard by the coaching staff.

She admitted it had been daunting as there was plenty of strong competition for midcourt spots.

Notable among that was last year’s Silver Ferns player of the year, Sam Winders, who missed out, alongside the likes of Claire Kersten, Mila Reulu-Buchanan, Kimiora Poi and Maddy Gordon.

However, Heffernan said she had excelled where she had not before.

In the past, she had struggled to execute what the coaches had wanted her to do at trials, but this time, she felt she nailed it.

Her long arms and ability to get deflections and tips on passes gave her a point of difference.

Despite that, she had still been surprised when she was told she had made the team.

Indeed, her comment that a completely different set of 12 players could have been named and still made a strong squad was perhaps the most poignant pointer to the depth in this team.

When she takes the court in Birmingham, it will also be her first time playing sport overseas.

Her time with the Silver Ferns last year was all in New Zealand, while her international cricket appearances for the White Ferns were also at home.

The selection was made all the more special by having her twin sister, Georgia, at the trials.

Georgia, who returned to the Southern Steel shooting circle this year after an ACL injury, was a late call-up to the trials.

There were plenty of surprises throughout the rest of the squad.

Maia Wilson, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Bailey Mes were all confirmed as shooters, while Grace Nweke was also named, subject to medical clearance and return-to-play protocols.

That left Ameliaranne Ekenasio and Tiana Metuarau, both of whom many were picking to be in the squad, in the reserves.

Ekenasio had spoken throughout the season about her struggles to reach fitness standards, returning this year from having her second child and also feeling the impacts of Covid-19.

Goal shoot Aliyah Dunn, who has been on the outer with the selectors since making four appearances in 2018, was also absent.

She has signed to play for the Tokomanawa Queens in the Tauihi Basketball Aotearoa league, returning to a sport she excelled at as a junior.

At the defence end, Kelly Jury, Sulu Fitzpatrick, Phoenix Karaka and Kayla Johnson form a quality quartet.

Elle Temu slots in as a reserve, while Kersten and Reulu-Buchanan are reserves in the midcourt.

The Silver Ferns will play the Aotearoa Men, New Zealand A and an invitational mixed team from July 13-16.

They leave for Birmingham on July 21, beginning the Games campaign a week later.



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