Softball: Quartet primed for Aussie strike

By Shane Hurndell

When Hawke's Bay softball representative Samantha Cooper first mentioned the words "Boot Camp", images of her knee-deep in mud completing All Black training sessions of the mid 1990s sprung to mind.

While the sessions Cooper has tackled for 90 minutes twice a week for the past year are not as arduous as the ones the likes of Jonah Lomu and Norm Hewitt struggled with last century, they have still proved beneficial for the 16-year-old, Taradale High School year 12 student.

"I've got to thank Lance [her trainer]," Cooper said. "His Boot Camp sessions keep me in shape for softball."

She was referring to Lance Marsh who runs the sessions which involve weightlifting, cardio and circuit work at Napier's Omni Gym.

Cooper believed these sessions were a key factor in her being one of four Bay representatives selected for New Zealand development teams to play in Softball Australia's International Youth Cup tournament for under-19 teams in Sydney from July 2-6.

The versatile first base player who is a two-time national champion, was unlucky not to be selected originally after a memorable summer.

Cooper was the top batter for the national title-winning Hawke's Bay under-17 girls team and also represented the Bay at under-19 level.

"I was buzzing after I got the call to travel as originally I was named as a non-travelling reserve," Cooper said.

The Dodgers premier women's player regards the selection as the highlight of her softball career which began as a nine-year-old teeballer at Arthur Miller School. Her Dodgers teammate, catcher Emma Houkamau, is also in the New Zealand development girl's team.

Houkamau, 15, completed a summer that ball players dream about.

The Napier Girls' High School year 11 student was the only Bay player selected for three national tournaments - under-15, under-17 and under-19.

She was named top catcher at the under-19 tournament, her school team's MVP at their national secondary schools tournament and Hawke's Bay Junior Softballer of the Year.

Houkamau is grateful for some cardio sessions at Napier's Fierce Fitness Gym and has also relished fitness sessions with Hawke's Bay netball stalwart Eliza Falcon.

Both Cooper and Houkamau are full of praise for the work put in to them by long-time club and representative coaches Kevin and Charmaine Gettins.

"They took our club team to Australia in 2010 and that experience should prove beneficial for Sam and I when we go in July," Houkamau explained.

They want to force their way into the starting nine in Sydney and believe consistent performances will enhance their chances of Junior White Sox selection for next year's Junior World Series in Canada.

Saints premier men's player Devontae Roberts wants his New Zealand development boys selection to lead to Junior World Series selection in 2014.

"Softball is all I play now and Junior Black Sox selection is the main goal," Roberts said.

The 16-year-old Hastings Boys' High School year 11 student is a versatile infielder but sees short stop as his preferred position.

He was a key member of his school team which won their national division two tournament.

Roberts has benefited from numerous tips from long-time Bay coach Mel England who is assistant coach of the national side. Roberts will be also tutored by Kevin Gettins in the build-up to Sydney.

"I'll be doing indoor and outdoor training before we leave," Roberts explained.

Maraenui Pumas premier men's player Tiwana Aranui, 15, is a replacement for the New Zealand development boys team.

The Napier Boys' High School year 11 student, who smashed a home run in the Bay's premier men's final back in March, will also be making his second trip across the Tasman to play ball.

He was alongside Roberts in the International Softball Academy team which finished second in a Sydney tournament last April.

Like Roberts, he is eyeing a berth in the 2014 Junior Black Sox side which will play in a Canada-hosted Junior World Series.

"I want to be one up on the brother ... although to be fair, he should have made this year's Junior Black Sox team," Aranui said.

He was referring to his older brother and Pumas catcher Karaitiana Aranui who was considered unlucky not make the Junior Black Sox team which will play in the Argentina-hosted Junior World Series in November. Their father and Pumas premier men's coach Roger Aranui will manage the Junior Black Sox in Argentina.

Aranui, who has represented Hawke's Bay through the age groups from under-13s to under-19s, is comfortable in both the left outfield and second base positions. The former Hawke's Bay Ross Shield rugby team hooker will continue playing rugby for the NBHS 3rd XV as part of his fitness work in the build-up to Sydney.

"I'll do plenty of winter softball training too ... this selection is the highlight of my softball career to date and I want to make the most of it," Aranui added.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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