They will be in foreign territory but when Jaydi Taylor-Chaffey and Asher Grapes slip on their bibs for the netball court in Fiji today they will feel as if they never left home.
Not even Suva's tropical humidity, which hits one like a wet blanket, will shake the Hawke's Bay girls' faith in who they are and where they come from.
That's because Taylor-Chaffey and Grapes represent the Aotearoa Maori team competing in the five-day International Under-19 Schools' Challenge.
"I just love the Maori culture, which has a nice side to it and brings you closer to everyone. It's like family, really," says second-year rep Jaydi Taylor-Chaffey, who had never been overseas before the pair caught their flight from Auckland on Saturday.
The kinship the Ikaroa ki te Raki (Manawatu) players share among their iwi (tribe) is not something they train for in the express aisle of preparation, never mind building court rapport.
"You're practically related. We really connect with each other compared with other team environments," says the 18-year-old Napier Girls' High School goal defence, who will play centre/wing defence for the Maori.
The year 13 pupil laughs when asked if they converse in Maori, revealing only a couple are fluent in the vernacular.
Grapes considers her immersion in Maori culture via netball an absolute honour.
"I don't get the opportunity to do it often so it's a great opportunity to embrace my Maori culture," says the Hastings Girls' High School year 12 pupil, who is making her Maori debut.
Engaging daily in a school system based on western values, the 16-year-old says, leaves little time to grasp traditional customs.
The pair were named in the 12-member squad selected at Easter weekend after the 30th national Maori tourney in Manurewa.
Grapes discovered the tourney stemmed from the desire to provide Maori females a diversion from detrimental activities, such as smoking and drinking, to boost their health.
"It started as a Smokefree tournament to try to help Maori women become more fit and active," she says.
Grapes says the Maori team's cohesiveness will be crucial this week, although her affinity is with fellow Ikaroa teammates Braxton Te Riini and Antonia Heihei.
But that's not a hurdle.
"At the trails I got to know everyone really well," she says, but she feels more camps leading to the international tourney will reinforce that sense of bonding even more.
For Taylor-Chaffey it's her first trip overseas. Last year the NZSS team beat them by a goal in the international tourney final in Auckland.
"It could have been us. If we had beaten them it would have taken us straight into the semifinal against Australia so we could have won, I reckon."
The tourney includes Australia secondary schools, who were runners up last year, Australia Aborigines, Malaysia, South Africa and the hosts.
"We blended so well last year. It was like we knew each other forever in the Maori team," Taylor-Chaffey says, looking forward to more of that under coach Rebecca Gabel, of Waikato, and Wa'ana Araroa, of Auckland, as well as team manager Daniel Short.
Competing in the Super 8 premier league has sharpened the pair's skills.
While she misses Otane and the continuity under "awesome" coach Annemarie Kupa, Taylor-Chaffey feels Super 8 will improve the standards in lower North Island through the inclusion of HGHS and NGHS.
The former Greenmeadows School pupil started playing when she was 6 because she accompanied her mother, Otane goal defence Rebecca Taylor, to trainings and games.
"I loved it as soon as I saw it," she says, appreciating it more at Taradale Intermediate.
She credits just about everything netball to her mother, especially the motivation, while father Michael Chaffey is an avid fan.
Slipping on the Silver Fern bib is on her agenda. Attending Victoria University in Wellington from next year will be a stepping stone towards making Central Pulse.
Grapes, an HGHS goal attack/wing attack, will slip on a GA bib.
"It'll be my first national team and my second last year in school as well so it's quite exciting," says the HB U17 player, who also made her Super 8 debut this season after playing for Taradale Stingers in the elite Saturday competition.
Diligence is key in Grapes' constitution. She invests extra hours on top of her normal training, gym work and games around her studies.
"I'm not the brainiest but I'm keeping up with school work to make sure I don't fall behind."
The 174cm tall player targets 85 per cent-plus in her shooting and achieves it but circle mobility and driving to the base line are her forte.
"I like variety so I'm quite a moving goal attack. I'm not a holder at all."
Lasting an entire game is indicative of where her fitness is but Grapes yearns for more via the different challenges Super 8 poses.
"I'm playing alongside women so it's about thinking, not just playing, so they have experience and I'm trying to outsmart them."
Grapes started playing at 7, following in the footsteps of older sister Kelsey, who attends Victoria University but stopped playing in year 10.
She has no lofty targets but simply enjoys playing while in pursuit of a teaching career.
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