Netball: Halpenny over the moon at selection for Ferns

By Dana Johannsen

Some of the players selected for the Commonwealth Games team for Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker
Some of the players selected for the Commonwealth Games team for Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker

As the traffic crawled along Auckland's Southern Motorway in rush hour on Monday night, it is safe to say there wasn't a happier commuter than Magic shooter Ellen Halpenny.

Having just landed back in Auckland following the Magic's dramatic one-goal win over the Swifts at the weekend, the drive back to Hamilton was made all the more bearable for Halpenny after receiving a phone call from New Zealand coach Waimarama Taumaunu, who informed the youngster she had made the Commonwealth Games team.

"It's been such a huge 48 hours," Halpenny said at yesterday's team naming at the New Zealand Olympic Committee's Auckland headquarters.

"Wai rang me and told me the news and it was just amazing.

"The traffic on the way home was really bad so it definitely made the trip a lot better."

Joining Halpenny on the drive back to Hamilton were her Magic teammates Casey Kopua, Jo Harten, Courtney Tairi and Bessie Manu, who promptly burst into yelps and squeals on hearing the young shooter's exciting news.

"They all shed a wee tear in the car with me.

"It was a really special moment and I'm really glad that I got to share it with them because we are all such good friends," said Halpenny.

"Then I rang my parents and they were crying."

Halpenny is the only uncapped player named in the 12-strong team for the Glasgow tournament, stepping into the shooting spot left vacant following the unexpected retirement of veteran Irene van Dyk.

The 23-year-old Cantabrian, who moved north to the Magic last year, has been New Zealand's best performing goal attack across the transtasman league season, sinking more shots than both Maria Tutaia and Pulse veteran Donna Wilkins at an accuracy rate of just under 82 per cent.

While Halpenny isn't the nippy, dynamic player you would expect of a goal attack, Taumaunu said it was the youngster's versatility and experience in the pressure-cooker environment of the ANZ Championship over the past couple of seasons that saw her get the nod.

"When you watch her play and look at what she's doing, her ability to keep defenders away from the ball and to be available - she's proven my initial thoughts about her wrong. You've got to really look at her and think 'well, she might not look like what we think a goal attack should look like, but she's effective'," said Taumaunu.

"In the very few numbers of quarters she has had at goal shoot she has had an impressive number of attempts on goal, and partly that is because she is confident and courageous enough to go to the post."

The other key changes to the side are the recall of veterans Liana Leota and Anna Harrison.

Leota, who returned to the court late in the season following the birth of her third child in March, last played for the Ferns in 2011, while Harrison missed the 2013 international season because she was pregnant.

While the late scratching of van Dyk changed the deliberations in the shooting circle, the most tense discussions for the selectors centred around the midcourt, with five players chasing two spots.

Grace Rasmussen, the in-form New Zealand wing attack this season, was unable to force her way into the team after a four-year absence, while Camilla Lees has been dropped in favour of Pulse teammate Leota.

The Steel's Shannon Francois retained her place in the side after making the most of her opportunities at international level last season.

"Sometimes the discussions about that midcourt became quite circular. It was a tight, tight decision but in the end it was a unanimous call," said Taumaunu.

"We looked for players that offered a complementary skill-set for Laura [Langman] and in the end we thought Liana and Shannon offered that."

Silver Ferns in search of Games gold

New Zealand team for the Commonwealth Games:
Casey Kopua (c), Laura Langman (vice-captain), Jodi Brown, Leana de Bruin, Shannon Francois, Katrina Grant, Ellen Halpenny, Anna Harrison, Joline Henry, Cathrine Latu, Liana Leota and Maria Tutaia.

Winners:
Ellen Halpenny: The Magic shooter has been elevated from outside the wider Silver Ferns squad and straight into the national team for Glasgow, taking up the shooting spot left vacant by the retirement of Irene van Dyk.
Liana Leota: Returning to the court late in the season after the birth of her third child in March, Leota's court smarts and feeding ability earned her the nod for the Commonwealth Games, despite the diminutive midcourter still being off the pace physically.
Anna Harrison: Despite a mixed season with the Mystics, the experienced defender has been recalled into the Ferns line-up, with her ability to cover all three defensive positions considered a key asset for tournament play.

Losers:
Grace Rasmussen: New Zealand's form wing attack of the ANZ Championship, Rasmussen was unable to force her way back into the Ferns after a four-year absence. Selectors sought players who would best complement star centre Laura Langman.
Bailey Mes: Included in the January tour to England despite still coming back from a knee reconstruction, Mes was hamstrung by a lack of court time in the ANZ Championship this season. Selectors decided the youngster hadn't chalked up enough minutes in the goal circle.
Temalisi Fakahokotau: Had it not been a pinnacle event, the selectors would have probably taken a gamble on the 19-year-old Mystics defender. She is in the train-on group and is a back-up option in case of injury.

- NZ Herald

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