Marlborough may not have a presence this year on the national volleyball stage, but a group of the province’s top women players have found a new pathway to compete at the top level.
With the Marlborough Redbacks, the province’s female representative team for the past few seasons, unable to field a competitive side this year the future looked grim for the region’s talented volleyballers.
However a “half-baked idea”, cooked up by Marlborough’s Katie Cunningham and her Wellington counterpart Lauren Bidois-Turrell, has allowed those players with an appetite to show their skills at a high level to be satisfied.
“Myself and a couple of other Wellington girls competed at the provincial champs this year and that’s when we came up with this half-baked idea of playing together … basically taking the best of both regions and forming one team,” explained Cunningham.
She and several of her former Redbacks team mates opted to join forces with the Capital Wolves club for the season and it has quickly become a successful partnership.
The Redbacks had previously competed in the southern zone, encompassing the South Island, and had found the travel commitment onerous. By joining with the Wellington-based Wolves, and playing under their club name, they competed in the central zone, covering the bottom of the North Island, effectively reducing the associated costs and travel time involved.
“In order to be a part of that competition it meant we had to adopt their name and their club. Basically that meant we didn’t have to travel down to Dunedin or Christchurch, just pop over to Wellington,” explained Cunningham.
“The travel commitments [to the southern zone tournaments] put a lot of people off. This year we would have had a weekend tournament in Dunedin, a two-day tournament in Christchurch then another two-day tournament in Nelson, all three weekends back-to-back. It was just demanding too much.”
The new-look Capital Wolves crew, who don’t have a full-time coach or manager, got together in June and have competed at three tournaments so far, with immediate success.
In early August they were placed second in a Palmerston North tournament, then they returned later in the month to the Manawatu for another event, involving stronger teams, where they finished fourth.
By doing that they became eligible for a Wellington event, staged two weekends back, from which the top two sides qualify to compete at division one nationals in October.
Again the Wolves finished fourth, twice pushing the top seeds to five sets along the way.
Even if the combined crew had finished in the top two qualifying positions they were not planning on attending the nationals as there were not enough players able to commit after such a late start to their season.
“I’m really impressed with how well the girls have got along and how well it has all worked out,” said Cunningham.
“We have always just had Marlborough Redbacks … so it was a big change collaborating with Wellington.
“This has been an experimental year because we have never played in this zone before and it has been a success. I’m glad we gave it a go. We started late so next year hopefully we can try and get the players to commit early on. Then we can commit to doing nationals as well which will be really exciting.”
Along with Cunningham the other Blenheim players involved are Isabella Rohloff, Louise Brown, Maddy Croad, Mary Schneier, Jordan Peipi, Amy Rowse and, at the beginning of the campaign, Abbey Greenwood.
Twin sisters Malia and Etelini Manoa, former Marlborough Girls’ College volleyball and netball stand-outs, are also part of the squad, Malia travelling from Christchurch to be involved.
The Capital Wolves squad: Katie Cunningham (Blenheim), Lauren Bidois-Turrell (Wellington), Lucy Penrice (Hawke’s Bay), Etelini Manoa (Blenheim/Wellington), Malia Manoa (Blenheim/Christchurch), Isabella Rohloff (Blenheim), Louise Brown (Blenheim), Maddy Croad (Blenheim), Mary Schneier (USA/Blenheim), Sophia Higgs (Wellington), Jordan Peipi (Blenheim), Amy Rowse (Blenheim), Helen Wilson (Wellington).