Handling pressure and responsibility is nothing new to up-and-coming netball umpire McKynlee Breen.
The 19-year-old, a former Marlborough Girls’ College head girl, recently controlled the Netball NZ under-17 tournament final in Auckland, another step on her pathway to bigger and better officiating appointments.
She labelled her selection to umpire at that level and then her promotion to the U17 final, between Waitakere and Manawatu, as the undoubted highlights of her career so far.
“Initially being chosen for the tournament was quite a surprise because I was only awarded my New Zealand C [umpiring] badge two months ago so I wasn’t expecting to be chosen. However, my name was put forward and I was assessed and passed, so that was a massive achievement.
“I had a lot of support. My intent wasn’t to umpire the big games, it was just to learn from the experience as it was my first Netball NZ tournament.”
However, McKynlee’s efforts during a tight quarterfinal saw the umpiring adjudicators message her at night, telling her she had been chosen to handle the tournament decider.
“There was a little bit of pressure, but I had a very intense quarterfinal … so that prepped me well heading into the semis and the final.”
She recalled that although there were plenty of nerves before the national title decider began, they evaporated as soon as the first whistle was blown.
“North Island teams play a different style of netball, it was nice netball to read and I was able to let quite a lot of contesting go.
“Quite often I find with South Island teams there is just unnecessary contact and players waiting for the calls, whereas up north they play netball and contest beautifully, so it made for a really nice game [to umpire] actually.
“At the end of the game I was just buzzing because I felt I had done a good job.”
McKynlee is in her second year at the University of Canterbury, where she is studying for a health science degree in health education with a view to working in the mental health area.
She was a member of the MGC senior A netball team for three seasons and, although she still enjoys playing the game, gets an even bigger kick from umpiring.
“I love umpiring because you are thinking a lot more. As a player you are often just thinking of yourself but as an umpire you are thinking about absolutely everything so it’s a good way to keep you on your toes.
“I want to go out and support the players to have the best possible game they can have.”
She says there is no better feeling than seeing smiles on the faces of both sides after a game, knowing that you have facilitated a good game for them.
McKynlee began umpiring at junior level in Marlborough and has a few people to thank for supporting her ambitions as she made her way up the ladder.
“Michelle Stagg is a gorgeous umpire so to have her in our area we are very lucky and I have learned heaps off her.
“My parents [Robyn and Mike Breen] have also been very supportive … umpiring isn’t always an easy sport, because you take a lot of flak sometimes, and you have to learn to be tough. If I have had a rough game they have always been great at picking me up and helping me move on with it.”
“Jan Gallop pushed me through my zone badge and gave me lots of coaching. She has always provided awesome support.”
While based in Christchurch, McKynlee has been adopted by the local umpiring fraternity who have allocated her a coach. She umpires at all levels in Christchurch, up to premier one grade.
“They have taken me under their wing and been amazing at pushing me to my limits. They always offer constructive feedback, just to make my game better.”
Although she has no lofty ambitions at this stage, she is keen to “keep pushing through the ranks” and continue to be selected for national tournaments.
With NZ netball riding the crest of a wave buoyed by World Cup success, team numbers will surely rise, meaning more umpires will be needed.
If the job is half as much fun as McKynlee makes it sound, then there should be no shortage of volunteers.