Change sparks new passion for Woulf - May 27, 2021
Sarahpheinna Woulf travelled over 3000km to find what she was searching for - a renewed passion for the game of netball.
The 21-year-old defender bid farewell to her Australian homeland this season and ventured across the proverbial ditch to cooler climes in Invercargill to join the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel.
It has proved to be a smart decision with Woulf discovering she feels right at home in the deep south.
“I’m enjoying it a lot. The whole family culture really sits with me well because family is a massive thing for me. To come here and fit in has been amazing. That is due to all the girls but also the islander girls in the team who understand the islander life. They know how it is,” she said.
“The environment we are in and this community is awesome. Having a home game day is just so cool because the fans really embrace us and it’s amazing to be in that moment.”
Silver Ferns head coach Dame Noeline Taurua connected Woulf to the Steel after initially coaching the promising young talent at the Sunshine Coast Lightning.
“I knew I needed a change. At that point in time, I felt like I was playing for everyone else and there was a lot of pressure and expectation. I was playing the sport because it’s what I knew but I wanted to enjoy playing.
“This opportunity came up and I took it.”
Impressing in state and Australian age group representative teams, a teenage Woulf caught the attention of Taurua and earned a Lightning contract to contest the 2018 Suncorp Super Netball season. Then disaster struck.
“My first year getting signed and I did my ACL and my MCL just weeks before the season. It was devastating. I never actually got on court for the Lightning,” she said.
Taurua kept the faith, following Woulf’s rehab and return to the elite ranks with the Australian U21 team before suggesting a change of scene and picking up the phone to her Steel counterpart Reinga Bloxham.
“Noels is definitely amazing - a wonder woman,” Woulf said.
“For me, I’ve definitely seen a lot of growth since I got here. I’m enjoying it and I’m happy playing.
“I feel like I’m doing it for myself. I’ve definitely seen a shift physically, mentally and just trying to push myself as a professional athlete.
“For me it’s just about learning as much as I can. The whole reason why I came here was just to learn a lot from the New Zealanders about how you guys do things.
“But I’m also learning how far I can actually push myself and where I can go in this sport. I try not to put too much pressure on myself and not expect to do everything perfectly.
So that’s been a massive learning experience for me which is really cool and I’m definitely excited about it. I have a long way to go but it’s an exciting journey again.”
She has embraced the New Zealand style of netball.
“I get told a lot that I play more the New Zealand style than the Australian style, even though I was born and raised there and played netball there my whole life. I love the whole zone, the box, the space instead of man-on-man and being able to have a go at ball.
“It is very different - Australia is a whole man-on-man approach and that’s their bread and butter.
“Coming here and seeing how everyone else plays and learning the kiwi way, I love it. I do prefer it over the man-on. I feel like I’m putting both styles into my game and being able to switch between the two and actually do my job is pretty cool.”
The opportunity to be mentored by experienced defender Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit was invaluable.
“She is honestly amazing - just the way she can read the game and her netball smarts. She plays her own style and she’s very effective in that style. She plays her way and is still very dominant.
“It’s cool seeing the different styles everyone does play and how we can put it together as a unit.”
Woulf was confident Steel would continue to chalk up wins as the ANZ Premiership progressed.
“I definitely think we can take this competition out. Being a young team, if you compare the preseason to how we’re playing now, there is just so much growth as individuals and as a team,” she said.
“I feel like we’re getting a lot better but there is so much more to give. We haven’t reached our full potential so it will be really cool to get that out on display before the season finishes.”
With her fellow defenders earning the wrath of the umpires during Monday’s game against The Good Oil Tactix, Woulf was injected into the action.
“When I get the opportunity to get on, I try and remember to go out there and just do me, play my style and not overthink it. As players it’s our responsibility to come on to the court switched on. There is no time to warm up - we have to go in with intensity,” she said.
“You definitely do get a different perspective watching from the bench. It’s knowing what they are getting caught up on and then changing things up while being mindful of what the umpires are looking for.
“It is hard if the umpires are constantly pulling up your defence end but we have to adjust to it and try different things.”
Round seven will see the Steel travel to Auckland to take on the Mystic in a vital clash this Sunday at 4.15pm.
Photo: Michael Bradley Photography