Talent isn't just the basic skill required to excel in sport but also having the ability to recognise one's potential without anyone pointing it out to you.

Hawke's Bay Under-17 netball newbie Ashleigh Poi personifies that attribute which isn't something you can necessarily instil in players.

Like most youngsters, Poi had a love affair with the hoop from the time she picked up a netball at 5 but, five years later, she mutated into a midcourter.

"I like shooting more but now I just like being involved," said the 15-year-old who is on debut with the Bay U17s who will start competing at the four-day age-group nationals in Palmerston North from Monday.


It probably did help that elder sister, Kimiora Poi, a former Outkasts Sports Optimise Physio midcourter in the Hawke's Bay Super 8 premier women's competition and former New Zealand Under-21, had undergone a similar realisation at a tournament.

"I worked it out for myself when I was 10 but I don't miss shooting," says Ashleigh Poi who accepts her stature doesn't fit the portfolio of the hoop hunters.

The Napier Girls' High School Senior A player is thankful to have encountered that as a Year 6 pupil attending Tikitiki School, north of Gisborne, after her birth at Te Puia Springs.

The Lee-Anne Taylor-coached Bay U17s will be looking to consolidate their top-12 placing last year.

Returning from the 2017 campaign are Asher Grapes (C, WA, GA, WD), who is captaining the side, vice-captain Jaimee Tapine (WD, C), Valentine Kahukura (GK, GD), Maddison Kaye (WA, C), Imke Kitchen (GS, GA) and Janayah Lewis (GA, GS).

Tabitha Coddington (GD, GK), from Central Netball, is a newcomer akin to vice-captain Parris Petera (WA, C), Liana Mikaele-Tu'u (GA, GS) and Kiah McCorkindale (GD, GK).

For Poi, the nationals will be an opportune time to become a cog in the wheel of a new machine although she's well aware it is the platform where selectors will be scouting talent.

"It'll be knowing I played to the best of my abilities and that I did what my team wanted me to do in performing my role on the court," says the Year 11 pupil, who is competing with the Bay U17 girls' basketball team at the nationals in Wellington this week.


The Bay age-group basketballers, who lost all their pool games, will play their Auckland counterparts in the 13th-14th playoffs today in the 20-team competition.

Poi is indebted to NGHS Senior A coach Anne Marie Kupa for honing her skills for the past two years.

"Anne Marie helped me with the basics, which is very important in moving forward," says the teenager of Kupa, who has been at the helm of the schoolgirl team for the past two years in the Super 8 competition and upset defending champions Otane Thirsty Whale in the four-round shield competition a few weeks ago.

Poi's mother, Roanne, who became a Manawatu representative midcourter while attending Massey University in Palmerston North, no doubt has had an influence on her netball.

Grapes has been in outstanding form following her Aotearoa Maori campaign, alongside teammate Kitchin.

Mikaele-Tu'u, while new to the goal-shooting circle, is turning heads with her athleticism.

"We have a core group from last year that understands the intensity of a national U17 tournament and the newcomers have brought a lot of energy, skill and enthusiasm," says coach Taylor, who enjoys mentoring individuals who contribute on and off the court.

"We are very lucky within this group to have several combinations that offer different styles of netball, which we can use to combat different defensive teams," said Taylor.

The team has had an ideal buildup, competing at the Marjorie Jendon (Wellington), Betty Steffensen (Palmerston North) and Rotorua tournaments.

The tournaments had exposed the players to some of the top New Zealand Secondary Schools players and teams. For the first time the Bay U17s have beaten Wellington (twice) and Manawatu (once) in the pre-season.

Assistant coach Rebecca Martin says: "We have had some excellent patches of netball where every player executes their role and the pre-season tournaments results reflect this."

However, they are still waiting on Tapine's fitness after she sprained her ankle in Super 8 on June 15.

"We are giving Jaimee right up to the national tournament to get herself ready to be back on court," says Martin.

Forty teams will compete at the nationals with pool games staged in the first two days.

The Bay will lock horns with Hamilton City A, Hutt Valley, Gisborne and Marlborough.