Otahuhu softballer Krysta Hoani is the complete opposite of everything usually seen in a softball pitcher. She's not loud, showy nor aggressive. She's shy and humble - and if it hadn't been for a terrible accident three years ago, she probably wouldn't even be pitching.
But the 18-year-old, who's in the White Sox squad to compete in the 2012 Women's World Fastpitch Championship in Canada from July 13 to 22, made the most of an awful situation to step up to the pitcher's plate.
Her mum, Sally Ann Hoani, explains. "My oldest daughter got hit by a softball three years ago. She was a pitcher and she had to have a face reconstruction. It smashed her nose," Mrs Hoani remembers. "It was horrible."
While she headed off to hospital, Krysta took her place as the game's pitcher. Turned out she was good, and in the three years after the accident, Krysta honed her all-round softball skills, making a name for herself as a pitcher.
Naomi Shaw, Softball New Zealand's national director of coaching, had noticed. "I've actually been tracking Krysta's progress for a number of years now - over the years as a junior in the grades - and I've been really impressed with her," says Ms Shaw.
Fast forward to last December at the World Junior Championships in South Africa. Krysta ended up pitching to the Americans, the strongest softball team in the competition, but did not let it intimidate her.
"I was excited, yeah, and nervous. It was the only game I pitched and I was good, apparently."
There she goes being humble. In fact, she was so good she was named player of the match, against the team that eventually won the cup. The Junior White Sox placed fifth equal with Canada in a tough competition.
Krysta took up softball quite late. She attended Sylvia Park Primary School and her three siblings had begun playing T-ball, the version of the game for younger children, when they were 5.
"She was very shy and if I was relying on people to take her, she didn't want that. If I couldn't take her she wouldn't play," says Mrs Hoani, who is manager of the Otahuhu Softball Krysta: pitcher perfectClub, for which Krysta also plays.
Only when Krysta was 11 did she decide to pick up a bat. "I didn't know I was going to be good but I just tried it anyway. I thought my brothers and sister were going to be better than me," she says.
Older brother Bayley now pitches for Auckland United, but in recent years it is Krysta who has caught the coaches' attention.
"Yeah," she says smiling with pride, "and I started later than them."
She went on to play for Epsom Girls' Grammar's top side and represented Auckland in under-13s to under-19s.
"One of the qualities Krysta's got going for her is that she's just an all-around athlete," says Ms Shaw. "She has a number of strings to her bow. She can pitch very well and under pressure, and she does that consistently. She's got good speed for running bases. She plays a really nice outfield, and she can also play infield. She actually has a range of skills that make her quite a valuable asset to a team."
Krysta is also an asset to her community. Her local MP, Ross Robertson, speaks highly of her. "Krysta is an excellent role model for the young people of Otahuhu," he says.
But the Hoani family has been struggling to raise the $7400 to fund her trip to Canada, having paid another $7000 for the South African trip (see side story).
Sally Ann can see the irony that, for years, she has raised money for all the teams at her local softball club, but now faces a struggle to raise the money needed for her own daughter to represent her country.
"If we have to, we will go into debt but, obviously, that's not ideal."
If all goes well, Krysta may be talent-spotted at the tournament, too. She's already had invitations to play in Europe as well as scholarship offers from American colleges. Having just finished high school, she's still weighing up her options.
There is no national funding for the team because the White Sox finished poorly in the last world series.
"Women's softball finished outside the funding criteria for Sport New Zealand," explains Ms Shaw. "So, the bottom line is it's really important we get some decent results in this year's world series so that Sport New Zealand can take another look at us and see that we are worth investing in. It's quite a big responsibility."
Sponsors - Donations needed!
Krysta has raised half of the $7000 needed to go to Canada. If she can't raise the other half, she has to withdraw. She leaves on July 1. Donate to her cause through Otahuhu Softball Club's bank account 12-3018-0054748-05 (Please reference Krysta with your deposit). Or call Sally Ann Hoani if you would like to sponsor Krysta on 027 315 0585.
White Sox take on the world
New Zealand's women's softball team, the White Sox, is aiming for a top eight finish in the Women's World Series in Canada.
Sixteen countries take part in the tournament, held every two years.
"We're aiming for a top eight finish in a really, really strong competition. And I think that's achievable," says Ms Shaw.She admits the team is disadvantaged by being in the Southern Hemisphere. The top three places were taken in 2010 by the US, Japan and Canada, in that order.
"We don't get the opportunity to play a lot of the league competitions. We're actually behind in terms of the European and Northern Hemisphere countries like Canada and the USA. They get regular interntional competitions whereas we only get it occasionally. And when we do, the girls have to fundraise to pay their way," she says.
Despite the challenges, Ms Shaw says the team is up for it.
"If we went from 12th place to 8th place, that would show progress because the girls have been working so hard for a long time. If we finish higher, we would really be rapt."
Tournament Website www.worldfastpitch2012.com
Full White Sox Team
Kingsley Avery (AK), Rebecca Bromhead (AK), Megan Farrell (AK), Melanie Gettins, Kataraina Hiku (AK), Michelle Tangaroa (AK), Danica Ferriso, Kiri Shaw (Hutt Valley), Charlotte Pointon (Wgtn) Tiana Areatti (Southland), Brook McManus (Australia), Lara Andrews, Ellie Cooper, Courtney Maihi, Taylor-Paige Stewart (US).
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