Rotorua's Erena Mikaere has signed for the Waikato/BOP Magic for 2020. The 192cm defender will add vital experience and height to the Magic's defensive third. She has been a champion on three occasions during her career, with the history-making Magic team of 2012 - winning the former trans-Tasman competition - and twice with the Sunshine Coast Lightning, in 2017 and 2018 in the Australian league. The 30-year-old also spent two years with the West Coast Fever in Australia, and prior to that a year with the Southern Steel. Sports reporter David Beck spoke to her about the decision to come home.
It's a chilly Saturday morning and, as is the norm in Rotorua, the Westbrook netball courts are a hive of activity as children of all ages ply their trade.
In one corner, fresh off the back of signing a 2020 contract with the Waikato/BOP Magic, Erena Mikaere keeps score for her niece's school team as her own daughter Bileigh Creighton, 9, warms up on the court next door. Mikaere is right where she wants to be.
While the lure of joining the Magic largely came down to the respect she has for the team, its coaching staff and values, being able to return to her hometown Rotorua and see her daughter every day is a massive bonus.
"I find it quite grounding. I was quite up in the air making the decision but once I made it I was really comfortable with coming home. For some people it's hard to come back home and resettle back down - it made it easier having my daughter here," the 192cm defender said.
"It's nice to know I'll be putting the Magic colours back on. Every team I've played with for the Magic has had such mana and love for each other - those are the values that I really enjoy.
"I am excited. We've got the likes of Samantha Sinclair, who also grew up in Rotorua and just the mixture of players - we've got some on the cusp of Silver Ferns and the likes of Whitney Souness coming up to play, that'll be awesome. It will be interesting to see how we can come together."
Mikaere left New Zealand in 2015, when she was scouted by the West Coast Fever in Perth. She became the first New Zealand player to be imported into an Australian team in the ANZ Championship.
I grew up on these courts and now my daughter's playing here, it's really cool.
After two years, her situation changed and while Bileigh wanted to be with her mum she also wanted to go to school in Rotorua, so for two years she lived in Rotorua with Mikaere's parents.
While the time apart was tough, Mikaere said she had no regrets about the decision but was thrilled to return to Rotorua now and be a bigger part of her daughter's life and able to watch her on the same courts she played on herself.
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"I grew up on these courts and now my daughter's playing here, it's really cool. She's in the Owhata School team which is the same primary school team I played for.
"[Being apart] was and wasn't hard. She'd still come over and visit and I'd spend the off-season with her but it was hard just missing her Saturday games and school sports, whatever she had on. She makes it quite easy though, she's a good kid.
"My parents always helped and everyone around the community - the school would message me and tell me how she was going. It was just hard for myself, in missing my baby, but everything was going well."
Mikaere returned from Australia last year and before starting the 2019 ANZ Premiership season with the Northern Mystics was able to fulfil a lifelong dream earlier this year, making the Silver Ferns squad and playing in the Northern Quad Series in Liverpool.
While not in this year's World Cup squad, she has not put a line through putting the black dress on again in the future.
"It was amazing being around the girls and in that high performance environment. I think every athlete wants to be in the best team and they want to be the best player they can be.
"I wouldn't say no to it if it came up but it's just about pushing myself to be better."