FORMER Queensland Firebirds shooter and Bundaberg product, Ameliaranne Ekenasio has found her feet across the ditch with the Central Pulse in New Zealand. The talented shooter has proven she can shoot the lights out on a netball court and is not afraid to turn and take the long bomb.
It was not until the age of 12 that Ekenasio picked up a netball and decided that it was in fact something that she enjoyed and a sport that she wanted to pursue.
“I didn’t come into the game with any understanding so I’d definitely call myself a late bloomer,” she said.
Coming from the small town of Bundaberg, Ekenasio knew that if she wanted to make the most of her netball dream she would have to move away from home and put it all on the line.
“Like we were only a small town so if you ever wanted to make it we had to go out to bigger games and getting competition and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “So when I was 18 I decided to move to try and play a bit more netball because I knew I was never going to be able to go anywhere playing in my hometown.”
Moving away from her family proved to be a big moment in her life but it paid dividends, as she was quickly picked up by the Queensland Firebirds in 2011. She spent four years at the club, but she struggled to get court time due to the star power across the court for the Firebirds.
“I wasn’t going forward, I wasn’t really going backwards, I was in it but I wasn’t playing and it was a really hard time for me,” she said.
Though times were challenging, Ekenasio relished the opportunity to play and train alongside netball greats, Laura Geitz, Clare McMeniman and Lauren Nourse who were a staple in the Australian Diamonds squad.
“I think I learned more in that stint from the girls I was surrounded by, we had some amazing leaders like Laura Geitz, Clare McMeniman, Lauren Nourse… so I think I’m really blessed, even though I wasn’t playing I felt like I still had such a crucial part to play in the team,” she said.
“They legit became my idols but I knew them too, which was really cool because the way that I idolised them and the way that I knew them was the same so I didn’t look at them as these amazing netballers as they were, but also as these amazing strong women who were vocal about what’s important and stood up for us young ones, and really drove us to be the best we could,” she said.
At the end of 2014, Ekenasio left the Firebirds and made the transition across the Trans-Tasman to the Central Pulse and has not looked back since. Now in her fourth season with the club, she has proven to be an integral player in the Pulse line-up credit to her smooth movement in the goal circle, ability to turn and shoot and general netball knowledge.
“I’m one of the leaders in the team, I’m one of the more experienced ones here, and I feel like it came really, really quick, but I think in that respect I’m really looking forward to seeing what impact I can have on our young ones,” she said.
“We have lots of young ones in our team, and kind of seeing how I can carry myself and what I can do to really have an impact on what’s created here, because that’s who it’s created by, it’s really your most experienced players and your leaders.”
With plenty of youth in the side Ekenasio has taken one of the most exciting young prospects at the club, Aliyah Dunn under her wing. The talented goaler is shaping to be one of New Zealand’s most prominent and prolific shooters in the competition.
“I think the best thing for me to do for her is just keep it enjoyable, while still trying to push her to be better in games,” she said. “So as long as we can just fix little things, little things along the way that could improve like our connection, I think that would be really good, I just want to keep encouraging her because I think she’s going to be amazing,” she said.”
The Pulse are also rich in experience off the court with specialist coach Irene Van Dyk amongst the mix. Van Dyk is renowned for her deadly accuracy under the post, impeccable timing and sheer ability to dominate a game.
“Irene has been around for so long and done so much so we’ve got a huge amount of respect for her,” she said. “So it’s just cool having her around, and she’s got this kind of thing about her that whenever she speaks that everyone really listens.”
While Van Dyk offers great knowledge she also provides that calming figure around the club when times are tricky.
“She’s just like-she’s such a mum! Sometimes when we’ve played a really rough game and, you know, you can go and give her a big hug and that’s really nice,” she said.
The Pulse narrowly missed out on the title last year after a dominant season and Ekenasio is hoping that 2019 will bring a change of events.
“I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what pipped us at the post last year so that that doesn’t happen again, that we actually deal with it along the way,” she said.
Currently the Pulse are sitting pretty on top of the ladder and are set to take on the Northern Stars in what is shaping to be a top of the table clash.
READ PART 2 HERE for the next chapter in Ekanasio’s life which features international selection and motherhood.