‘Absolutely thrilled’ to make Steel squad

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At just 19 years old Jennifer O’Connell has already ticked off a massive goal — earning selection in the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel team.
O’Connell said she was blown away to be included in the Steel squad for 2017 as she was not expecting to make the side just yet.
Getting to that next level would require plenty of work but she was looking forward to the challenge, she said.
The talented shooter will represent the franchise in the 2017 ANZ Netball Elite League.
‘‘I’m absolutely thrilled — I can’t wait. It’s definitely been a dream since I was a little girl,’’ O’Connell said.
‘‘As a player I want to keep developing, and just being in the Steel environment with quality team-mates and coaches will play a huge part in that,’’ she said.
The 1.93m goal shoot was excited to link up with towering Jamaican international Jhaniele Fowler-Reid, who boasts an additional 5cm in height.
‘‘I have so much that I want to learn from her and it’s really exciting to have the opportunity to tap into her experience.’’
O’Connell started school in Middlemarch before moving to Cromwell with her brother and mother.
The family ismost recently from a sheep and beef farm in Kaiwera, near Gore, where the first-year University of Otago student spends her holidays.
O’Connell remembers first getting into netball as a 10-year-old when a friend roped her into a training halfway through the season.
‘‘I was initially meant to just do the training and play the next year, but the team ended up being short. I ended up coming home asking Mum whether I could play on Saturday,’’ she said.
When she first started she was in the defensive circle and looked up to players such as Casey Kopua.
However, after swapping ends she looked to players such as Northern Mystics’ Cathrine Tuivaiti, with whom she has since had the opportunity to train.
She was educated at Waitaki Girls’ High School and has represented the region in various age-group and senior teams, including the South team which won the inaugural Beko National League title in June.
She has represented Otago in several age-group teams as well as playing for the Otago NPC side recently.
She is a member of the New Zealand under-21 team and was included in the national Pathway to Podium initiative, a partnership between Sport New Zealand, High Performance Sport New Zealand, national sports organisations and regional bodies.
One of her biggest achievements was touring with the New Zealand under-21 squad to Rarotonga earlier this year, O’Connell said.
She also attended the Silver Ferns trials last month, although she admitted she was still a little way away from making that side.
While she had fielded interest from other franchises, she did not want to venture too far.
She is studying to be a primary school teacher at the University of Otago’s College of Education in Dunedin.
‘‘I don’t really want to go away. I’m a bit of a home girl and love being on the farm — it’s my special place to be.’’
Along with Fowler-Reid, O’Connell will be joined in 2017 by captain Wendy Frew, Silver Ferns Shannon Francois, Te Paea Selby-Rickit and Jane Watson, NZA midcourter Gina Crampton and defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit.
‘‘They are all coming off such a fantastic season this year and will be wanting to build on that so it will be great to be part of the journey.’’
Steel chief executive Lana Winders said O’Connell’s inclusion showed the pathways available to local players.
‘‘Jen performed incredibly well for our South Beko team and it’s exciting to see our own talent getting the platform to really shine on the national stage and also ensure the selectors take notice,’’ she said.