Key Points:

The national grid would have gone off the scale if they'd plugged in Mary Waya's beaming grin yesterday.

The Malawi goal attack, remarkably in her 24th year in the red and green of the national side - "it will be my silver jubilee next year," she quipped - was an influential figure as her team squeezed into the quarter-finals at the world championships.

Their 55-52 win over Wales was greeted with leaps of joy for the team known as the Queens. It was a far cry from their opening night pounding from the Silver Ferns.

They beat African rivals Botswana on Monday but this, in the words of veteran coach Griffin Saenda, was "the do or die game for us".

And what better time to do it than with Malawi's Sports Minister Khumbo Kachali watching from the stands, gleefully banging his thunder sticks together.

Take a poll at Trusts Stadium to find the most popular figure among the 16 teams at the champs and Waya would be at the summit.

She made her national team debut at just 14 and has 19 years on the youngest squad member.

But it's the power of her personality which makes Waya shine.

At 1.62m and 89kg, combined with her age, she doesn't fit the, ahem, conventional netball physique. But no matter. Her only other trip to the worlds was in 1995 at Birmingham - she missed 1999 when she was pregnant - and she's got a claim to fame.

"I'm 38, which means I'm old," she laughed. "But I have seen some players who came through with me in 1995. They are coaches now, but me, I'm still strong."

And she was fit to burst with pride at the knowledge her sons, Caru, 11 and William, 7, will get up in the morning back home, turn on the TV and watch Mum help topple the Welsh.

She has no daughters, but "what God gives you, you just receive it".

Waya and captain, wing attack Peace Chawinga, and Emma Mzagada were all at the 1995 championships. Age hasn't wearied them and now they will end the tournament with, at worst, a world ranking of 8.

Malawi were sixth at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games last year but arrived in Auckland unranked, having missed the last worlds in Jamaica through lack of funding. Yesterday should ensure that doesn't happen in 2011.

"This means a lot. Now we are making our own ranking numbers," Waya said.

Waya is studying for an economics diploma and the significance of having a Government minister on hand for a big day was not lost on her.

As she put it "he will be our witness. He will take the message back."

And the message will be that although football is No 1 among her 13 million countrymen, netball can put Malawi's women on the sporting map, with some financial help along the way.

For these champs, the players received specially designed uniforms, which is a first. When Malawi bow out, it will be Waya's world champs finale.

There might be a tear, but there's sure to be plenty of smiles.

"She is a huge role model, not only to this team but to Malawi sports women educating them about Aids," Saenda said of one of the biggest health concerns in the poor country. "Young players have a great example in Mary. We are very proud of her."