By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
The Fiji Pearls netball team’s final preparations for the Netball World Cup in Cape Town this month is all about maintaining possession.
Tean coach, Unaisi Rokoura said, “So far we still have a few areas that we still need to work on, and that is why we are going into this last phase of preparation; analysing and looking at all our previous games.
“We are focusing on two things, keeping our possessions, and for us to keep our possessions during the games, we have to work on our movements,” Rokoura said.
The Fiji Pearls squad is a mixture of experienced and developing players. They are now undergoing a rigorous six-day-a-week training regime that requires the girls to be in the gym three times a day.
Rokoura said, “With the blend of the young and the senior players, it has been really good; the senior players have set the standard, and the junior players are learning, and they are in sync.
“We actually have four mothers in the team who have sacrificed their family time to be committed to the extensive training starting at 6. in the morning and the third session late at night, from Monday straight through to Saturday,” she adds.
On the netball court, anything can happen, and the flow of the ball from player-to-player can be so fast that when the players don’t read the game or are not in tune with each other, the ball can be turned over. Last week the team visited Kila World for team building and bonding sessions, which reinforced the value of teamwork, being more in sync, and facing their fears.
Rokoura noted: “The Kila experience is great for the girls; it teaches them to communicate with each other better, teamwork, and I believe if you can face your fear, in this case, heights, drop down from those giant swings, you can face any opponent coming your way.”
The 12 member team and three non-travelling reserves will be playing at the Vitality Netball World Cup 2023 from July 28-August 6, and 16 teams will be battling it out across the 10 days in the hopes of being crowned champions.
In camp, the girls are working hard with very limited resources but are determined to perform their best for their country. Among the experienced players are Maria Rusivakula and Vakaoca Bolakoro, who took time off from work in the UK to carry the Fiji flag at the World Cup.
Maria Rusivakula, who is a teacher at Ipswich in the UK and is the team’s shooter and midcourt player, shares, “It’s an honour for me to represent my country and that sacrifice of leaving work and family behind because I know that in the end it will be worth it.”
Vakaoca Bolakoro serves in the British Army, adds: “I’m also doing it for my daughter; I want to be a good role model for her because she loves netball, and I hope she represents the country too in the future. I’m just honoured to carry the Fiji flag.”
In the midst of the experienced players are two students: year 13 student Elina Drikibau of Suva Grammar High School and University of the South Pacific student, Josephine Nailumu.
The junior players smile from ear to ear as they recalled getting the news of their call-up over the phone.
“I almost cried,” Nailumu said, as she looked at Drikibau, who shyly agreed.
While the excitement of flying to South Africa may be pushed to the back of their minds as they focus on going up against some of the best netballers in the world, the coach and girls remain optimistic.
Rokoura said, “The reality is we are going in as the 19th-ranked team… so there is a lot of expectation in terms of the players. Our goal is to take each game at a time. We’ve mapped out where we want to be and what we need to do to achieve our goal.
“We’ve got a young team; all we need from the public is their continued support. Remember us in your prayers. It hasn’t been an easy preparation for us, but we are here. These players have given and sacrificed so much to get to this final phase.
“As is customary for anyone of us representing the noble banner blue, we will go out there and give it everything we got.”