Netball: Honours for Ferns' coach and captain

By Dana Johannsen

Casey Williams. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Casey Williams. Photo / Steven McNicholl

She already has a (c) next to her name, now Silver Ferns captain Casey Williams can add the letters ONZM.

The star defender, who led her side to a Commonwealth Games gold medal in Delhi last year, has been recognised in the Queen's Birthday honours list, being made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit alongside her national coach Ruth Aitken.

Williams and Aitken, who were acknowledged for their services to netball, join a distinguished list of sporting identities to receive the honour, including former NZRU chairman and Sparc board member Rob Fisher and two former New Zealand cricket captains - Stephen Fleming and his successor Daniel Vettori.

For Williams, who turns 26 later this month, the news she was to be appointed an ONZM was greeted with shock and a hint of confusion.

"I didn't really know what it was to begin with, but then when I spoke to my mum and dad they told me what it was and they were just over the moon.

It's definitely something very special."

But Williams admitted to feeling some embarrassment in scooping an individual honour when she puts so much of her success down to her teammates. "It is very hard because it is not just me, I can only do what I do because of everybody else. I think it is a tribute to all the people around me - the girls, the wider team and everyone that has supported me right from the start as well."

Aitken said she was "absolutely delighted" that Williams has been honoured alongside her, and believes her young charge is thoroughly deserving of the accolade.

"She has a real special quality and she just leads the team with such a warrior spirit really - she's an awesome sportswoman and it is a real credit to her that someone so young can be honoured like this," said Aitken. "I think for both Casey and I we accept on behalf of all of those that work behind us, because it is a real team approach."

The recognition comes at a time when Aitken and Williams are plotting their path to further glory.

The New Zealand squad assembled in camp in Lower Hutt over the weekend to begin their preparation for next month's world championships in Singapore. They will play two tests next week against Australia as part of their build-up to the tournament.

While they are in "full-on preparation mode" for the world champs, Aitken said receiving the honour allowed her to reflect back on what she has already achieved in her nine-year tenure as New Zealand coach. In that time Aitken has coached the Ferns to three major titles - Commonwealth Games gold in 2010 and 2006, and a world crown in 2003.

"It certainly does make you kind of reflect on the journey and realise 'yes it has been a few years'. But it is unusual timing kind of because we are now just doing that final push through to the worlds," she said.

"It's really lovely but obviously it won't be able to distract us for long because we have got a big job ahead."

Former New Zealand basketball captain Pero Cameron heads a list of five new sporting Members of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Cameron led the Tall Blacks for a decade until 2010 after debuting for his country in 1992.

Others recognised are Barry Cleal, Auckland Rowing Club stalwart and coach, 2010 Winter Paralympic Games standing slalom gold medallist Adam Hall, Paralympic and world championships shooting gold medallist Michael Johnson, and Ivan Sutherland, a bronze medallist in the men's eight at the 1976 Montreal Olympics who went on to select national squads and is current chairman of Rowing NZ.

- NZ Herald

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