You could say Toki Mana netballers took the court in the same manner high school leavers contemplate excitement when embarking on another chapter of life in tertiary education or employment.
The promoted newcomers didn't have it easy either, coming up against shield champions All In Tremains Elusive in their historic debut in the Karamu Holden Super 8 competition last Friday night.
No doubt the warmth of an indoor encounter beckoned at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, from frosty Saturday mornings but they had already braced themselves for the cold comfort of a first-up loss, 69-43, although they had emphatically claimed the second quarter, 13-10, at the start of championship leg.
"You know, who does that?" said jovial player/coach Renee Whitiora of a club built on whakawhanaungatanga (family values).
"Are they trying to demoralise us — we're No 8 and they're No 1 and we get them straight off the cuff," said Whitiora with a laugh after All In won the first quarter 20-8, third 23-7 and the last one, 16-15.
The 40-year-old Work and Income case manager put down the blowout spell to the changes they made from the bench with a view to exposing all the players to elite netball immediately but relished All In putting them through the wringer.
"We wanted to give everyone the opportunity to experience in the physicality in the grade in the face of a loss to the top team."
She said the score didn't reflect her side's endeavour but some fans had endorsed that in a match billed "as the one to watch".
Whitiora, who also is club secretary, said Toki Mana hadn't retained their centre passes enough to her liking.
"We only retained 57 per cent and that's just not good enough but we had enough turnovers, capitalising on some of theirs in that second quarter, but to be in the game we have to lift our centre-pass retention ... and then score on their balls."
She is proud that Toki Mana, despite the odds, had gone to the match in the right frame of mind.
"We had prepared mentally for that and played beyond my expectations," she said, revealing that mental fortitude was inconsistent when they were footing it in the second-tier Saturday morning competition.
"The girls stood up to the physical and mental challenges of the game [last Friday] and played right to the [final] whistle."
Toki Mana club was formed six years ago to compete under the Hawke's Bay Netball umbrella, comprising players from myriad clubs in the province.
Whitiora, a nomad who had drifted from club to club, did play in the now defunct Intercity Friday night premier grade in her 20s for Eskview when ex-Silver Fern Tanya Dearns (nee Cox) was living in Napier.
Two other Toki Mana players have similar experience — captain/GK Norma Shield and Whitiora's daughter, Chanay Peri who got the team's MVP award last Friday night.
Peri, a centre, was part of the Thirsty Whale Otane multiple championship-winning side as a teenager for three years before she left to attend university but the 20-year-old, who is home for a year, intends to complete her tertiary education next year.
However, Toki Mana didn't forget where they had come from, returning to support their affiliate teams on Saturday morning, mindful the Super 8 campaigners have become a beacon of inspiration for anyone else harbouring to make the elite echelons.
"I think our girls realised they have come a long way," she says, emphasising the club's core family values. Her sister, Janelle Whitiora, 38, is goal defence for a side who will face Havelock North House of Travel Kauri this Friday.
Kauri succumbed 52-42 to Hastings High School Old Girls' Proactive Huia after captain Judy Brown shot 100 percent (38 goals) to keep All In Super 8 shield top gun Pania Rowe (47/57) honest.
Outkast Optimise Physio took it up another notch with a 39-33 victory over fellow shield mid-table side Central Sports Vet Services who were missing shooter Kirby Beach. Outkast counterpart Rakei Sa'ena was the difference.
Otane and defending overall champions Napier Girls' High School Seniors settled for a nail-biting 44-all draw.
The teams, who were last year's grand finalists, traded goal for goal with Otane claiming the first quarter, 9-7, drawing the next spell, 12-all (21-19), before pulling away 14-10 (35-29) in the third.
But the schoolgirls weren't done, swishing the net in a four-goal blitz, much to the crowd's delight.
With 10 seconds to drain the clock on their own centre pass in the quest to break the deadlock, the NGHS engine room went into overdrive a tad too early to enable Otane GD Amanda Godinet to make a crucial intercept to share the points.
NGHS captain Janaya Lewis, who shot 88 per cent, said while they squandered the last pass they were proud to claw their way back.
"We're going to fight all the way, especially in the championship round," said Lewis of NGHS who won both titles last winter.
Rd 2 of the Championship leg at the Pettigrew-Green Arena, Taradale, this Friday:
6pm: Kauri v Toki Mana, PG 1.
6pm: Huia v Outkast, PG 2.
7.30pm: All In v NGHS, PG 2.
7.30pm: Otane v Central, PG 1.
Standings (after rd 1): All In 4pts, Huia 4, Outkast 4, Otane 2, NGHS 2, Central 0, Kauri 0, Toki Mana 0.