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Sabutu soars to new heights

Rising Wairarapa College netball star Sovaia Sabutu is on the brink of earning national honours.

In what is believed to be a first for a Wairarapa secondary school netballer, the talented 16-year-old has been named as one of 24 players to attend a trial for the New Zealand Secondary School [NZSS] team in the build-up to the 2025 Youth World Cup.

Sabutu has been part of the Waicol team that won the last two Wairarapa Premier One Championships and was last year named Netball Wairarapa’s senior player of the year, an outstanding achievement as she had played much of the season as a 15-year-old.

Waicol coach Keely Riwai-Couch said Sabutu’s selection is huge for Netball Wairarapa, and she had never heard of anyone else who has got that far while being based in the region.

Riwai-Couch believes the exciting defender has a big future ahead of her.

“Especially being recognised now because, with some, you’ve kind of got to move to another area to a bigger school,” Riwai-Couch said.

“Now that she has been recognised, she will be considered for any camps in Wellington and that kind of thing. She’ll be on the radar, so that’s great.”

Riwai-Couch said Sabutu’s great attributes are her height, which she gets from her father Waisake, who was a mainstay of the successful Wairarapa United side for several years, including winning the 2011 Chatham Cup, and her ability to stay calm, no matter what sport she plays.

“She can read the sport, she can read the game well, and with that, you’re able to have a good go at getting interceptions and things like that, and she just does her job and doesn’t get overly fazed by stuff.

“She just gets out there, her focus is good, she works hard, and probably has a lot of natural ability as well, which always helps.

“She never gets flustered; I think that’s just her personality and make-up. Both her parents are like that, and they are beautiful people. She really deserves it, and she’s a beautiful young lady.”

The 24 players who take part in the three-day trial in Auckland in April will be put through fitness testing, specialist skill sessions and trial matches.

NZSS head coach Pelesa Semua said she is looking forward to working with the top secondary school players after having limited opportunities over the last three seasons because of covid-19.

“This is largely a new group of players who are taking their first steps into Netball New Zealand’s Player Pathway, which is such a positive move after the challenges of the last few years,” Semu said.

“Looking at the big picture, this year will provide some much-needed international play after such a long absence, but it is also important exposure for these athletes as we build towards the 2025 World Youth Cup.

“The NZSS team holds a special place in New Zealand netball history and is the pinnacle for secondary school players around the country. We can’t wait to see what these athletes will bring to the trials in what will be a good look into the future of our game in New Zealand.”

The NZSS team will travel to Australia from June 27 to July 3 for the U19 Australian camp, providing some vital international play.

Sovaia caught the eye of selectors with some outstanding play for Waicol at the Lower North Island Secondary Schools Tournament in October 2022.

She and another promising Waicol player, 14-year-old Maggie Shields, then attended trial camps in Palmerston North. That led to Sovaia’s elevation to the national trials.

Riwai-Couch also predicts a big future for Shields, also a promising softballer, who missed out on selection, but has another four years at secondary school to impress.

Sabutu is also multi-talented and, like her father, a very good footballer, as well as a useful cricketer and a talented athlete, having represented Waicol at the 2020 NZ Secondary School Championships, making the final in the junior girls 300m hurdles.

Chris Cogdale
Chris Cogdale
Chris “Coggie” Cogdale has extensive knowledge of sport in Wairarapa having covered it for more than 30 years, including radio for 28 years. He has been the sports guru at the Wairarapa Times-Age since 2019.

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