There was a mix of familiar and new as reigning ANZ Championship netball titleholders Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic launched their 2013 squad in Hamilton yesterday.
Bay of Plenty shooter Kendra Falefitu joins fellow shooter Ellen Halpenny, who makes the move north from the Canterbury Tactix, and youthful talent in the form of Nadia Loveday (midcourt) and Jaime Lee Price (defence).
With nine returning from last season, the team, to be known as Kia Magic in the new season, has a stable look to it while also introducing a handful of youthful new recruits. The retention of Silver Ferns quartet Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman, Casey Williams and Leana de Bruin ensures the retention of an experienced base for Magic.
That is shored up by a solid core from their winning 2012 edition in Elias Shadrock, Jess Tuki, Jess Waitapu, Erena Mikaere and Australian import Khao Watts.
The team is also boosted by the return of versatile Tauranga-based defender Jodi Tod, who is back in the frame after a year out on maternity duty.
"It's a really exciting time for us to be naming this group of players," Magic assistant coach Tanya Dearns said.
"In recent years, Magic has probably struggled with finding a consistent depth. There's been a lot of work done in the last couple of years to build that depth and raise the levels. The plan is to keep building on that and we believe that will happen with this group."
With squads being able to carry 14 players this year, up from 12 last year, Magic has been able to invest in three rookies who will be immersed in the professional environment, along with the talent identified from the regions with a view to keeping the succession plan ticking over.
Falefitu is out of Auckland Girls' Grammar School and played for Bay of Plenty Gold in this year's national provincial championships. Loveday, a New Zealand under-21 squad member, and Price also come out of the same nursery and are current senior players at Mt Albert Grammar School. Price is the daughter of former New Zealand Warriors rugby league captain and Australian international Steve Price.
"I am really excited about the opportunity for Jaime and can't wait to see her improve on and off the court," Steve Price said. "I believe that Magic's a great place for her to do that. I have been really impressed so far with the people we have met who are part of the franchise."
Falefitu played a major part in Bay of Plenty getting through the dramatic last second win in the promotion-relegation battle last month. The 19-year-old goal attack is understandably a little apprehensive about the season to come.
But she has talent to burn and admits she would love to get some game time but understands that may not happen.
"I would love to get to play but just the experience of being around Erena and Casey and Irene [van Dyk] will be good for me," Falefitu said.
"I am excited and really stoked to be around Irene, that's for sure.
"It was a bit scary when I came down to join the Bay but they were all welcoming and it was so easy to talk to them. I had fun and it should be the same with the Magic."
Mikaere is exuding confidence ahead of the new championship after learning so much in the Magic squad for the last two seasons and guiding her Bay of Plenty team through a roller-coaster season. "That will all help but as a netballer you always start again with a clean slate," Mikaere said.
"Personally ... the Bay season was good for me because I had to stand up as a leader even though I thought at the start I was not old enough - but in the end it did help immensely.
"The good thing with being in the Magic squad before is that I know what happens in the environment now and I know what is expected of me.
"That means now I can just focus on performance and spend time learning from the two top defenders in the Silver Ferns in Casey Williams and Leanna de Bruin."
Gone from last year are shooter Julianna Naoupu and defender Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick. A strong desire to return home will see the talented Naoupu suit up for the Tactix next year while Tone-Fitzpatrick has headed to the Southern Steel in search of more game time.
Magic franchise CEO Sheryl Dawson said there were exciting times ahead concerning the future partnership with Kia.
"We have enjoyed our negotiations with them immensely and can only see positive outcomes from our partnership as we plan our campaign for the upcoming season," she said.
"Our goal is to secure the Championship trophy for another season."
Magic squad 2013
Leana de Bruin, Kendra Falefitu, Ellen Halpenny, Laura Langman, Nadia Loveday, Erena Mikaere, Jaime Lee Price, Elias Shadrock, Jodi Tod, Jess Tuki, Irene van Dyk, Jess Waitapu, Khao Watts, Casey Williams.