It has been an extraordinary year or so for Ameliaranne Ekenasio, the new Silver Ferns captain who has risen to the top of the netball world.
The amazing run began last June, when the Central Pulse - the minor premiers - beat the Northern Stars in the ANZ premiership final.
Goal attack Ekenasio then starred at the World Cup in Liverpool where the Kiwis upset Australia to win a cliffhanger final, with Ekenasio landing 24 goals from 26 shots.
And when veteran midcourter Laura Langman took a break this year, a team vote helped propel the 29-year-old into the Silver Ferns captaincy. What followed? A victorious Nations Cup campaign in England of course.
Ekenasio has been through tough netball times when she struggled to get on court.
Ekenasio (nee Wells), whose father is a Kiwi of Ngāpuhi descent, was born and raised in Bundaberg, Queensland, and came through the Australian netball systems.
The Australian age group representative struggled to break through with the Queensland Firebirds and joined the Wellington-based Central Pulse in 2015.
On the eve of the Central Pulse's ANZ Premiership restart this afternoon against the Northern Stars, we chat to Ekenasio about lockdown training, the Silver Ferns captaincy vote, Aussie netball tactics, protecting the environment, why the Pulse are staying in a bubble, premiership favouritism and more.
Was training through the lockdown difficult?
We went from training as a team to training individually, a pretty big change for everybody. It was also a bit of welcome change because a lot of us found out what we were made of.
We're so regimented in having to do what we're told to do when we're told that having the time off allowed us to listen to our body, and make any changes to our training.
I really like training by myself regardless but found I really did miss training as a team. The balance is so important.
Is it easier for a shooter to train alone?
Yes and no. We are required to be so athletic, explosive, dynamic – there's a lot more to the game now. I don't actually have my own hoop so I had to wait until we started training to get my shooting back.
Do goal attacks and shooters operate in a more fluid combination these days?
It is very dependent on the individual players. It took quite a while for Maria (Folau) and I to develop that type of game style, but it was really needed for us to perform. I think Noels (Silver Ferns coach Noeline Taurua) is keen on everyone being extremely athletic. I don't think you can be just a standalone shooter anymore. Then again, you still see really big shooters in the Australian competition.
You are known for a high arcing shot…
I've always been quite a natural shooter, and grew up under (Aussie legend) Nicole Cusack. She taught me everything I knew at the Firebirds. She always taught me to shoot over a defender. It was a natural transition for me. I had a natural high shot anyway.
You are well placed to know the differences between New Zealand and Australian netball…
There are lots of differences.
Since we have gone back to a New Zealand competition (the transtasman league was scrapped in 2016) and with Noels coming back in, we've reinstated a really good Kiwi style that was potentially lost for a while. We create for each other.
The Australians just run on your body the whole time which is exhausting in itself. You literally wear them as backpacks for the whole game. It's definitely very tough. That's why it is so imperative we cope with a more physical load.
Your Australian links include a friendship with the giant New Zealand men's netball star Junior Levi…
We played quite a bit together growing up, when we were coming through the ranks. I met him in Brisbane – we played some indoor stuff together and against each other.
There is talk the Silver Ferns will play more matches against the men…
That entire competition against the men last year was really important for us. No other team could have prepared us better for the World Championships. They are so much bigger and stronger. So skilled as well.
We definitely worked into overload. We had to do so much more to protect the space – we had to make sure 110 per cent that the ball got to where it needed to. We had to demand a lot of each other.
We really hope more games go ahead and not just to make us better. The men are amazing, incredible athletes themselves. The games showcase how amazing our men are at netball.
Sustainability is a big part of your life…
I like to live as lightly as possible. If I can encourage every single person around me to reduce what they use, it's one of the most important things we can do for the earth. I just care about the environment, what we are doing to our world. I think a lot of people are a bit mindless about it.
We support brands with ethical (provenance). We're really into New Zealand brands. There are tonnes of them making some really good environmental changes. There's a lot of education needed – people don't know what they don't know.
And you carry healing crystals…
Crystals, yoga, meditation – it's just a way of life really. I'm really a holistic person, there's no black and white. I look at a whole bunch of ways of living. It goes hand in hand with our sustainable life. The earth can give us more than we can take from it.
Is your father's Māori heritage important to you?
Yes, but I didn't grow up with it ingrained into me as much as I would love it to be. I'm slowly learning, but I don't have any family in Wellington to talk to about it. I don't know enough about it for it to be everything to me yet.
You had never captained a team before – what did you learn at the Nations Cup and what is your style?
I had a lot to learn quickly, and big shoes to step into. It was a really unexpected role for me. I just had to be myself, back myself. What's my style? Oooooh… I guess authentic, caring. We'll just go with those two for now.
Was the team vote important to you?
Definitely. If I had just been allocated the captaincy, I would have been a bit unsure about it. And more than just the players voted, there were some other (officials) included. Coming out on top meant the world to me. It meant so much that my teammates believed in me. How could I turn them down?
Who did you vote for?
It's a secret… Definitely not myself.
Is captaincy a long term goal?
I'll just take it and run with it and see where it goes. If it ends up going to someone else at some point, then that's the right decision for the team. It's not a title I'm desperately wanting to hold on to, just to be the captain. Whoever is exactly the right person will be there.
Is there anything you would like to change in netball?
A lot, but putting it into words is quite hard. We could evolve so much more, especially in times when we are recognising women's sport and athletes so much more. We can elevate that more ourselves.
The Central Pulse are strong favourites to retain their 2019 title…
A part of me really likes being the underdog. Being favourites doesn't change much in our camp. We walk into every single game expecting it to be the hardest of the season. It is important to us to continue in our own little bubble – we don't buy into what is being said around us.
It has been an amazing year for you…
I do feel extremely proud of what (the Silver Ferns) have done as a team for the last 12 months, really proud of our journey. I'm even more excited about what could still come, how much further we can go.