Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit has come such a long way from the girl too scared to utter a word to her netball team-mates.
At 14, when she was the youngest in the New Zealand under 21 team by a handful of years, she barely said a word – on or off court. But it wasn’t simply shyness.
“My English was so terrible that I wasn’t confident speaking it,” says Selby-Rickit. Growing up in the Māori community of Ōtaki, on the Kapiti Coast, she only spoke te reo Māori and thought that everyone spoke it.
Now, at 29, fluent in both languages, she’s had to find another voice.
As the new co-captain of the Southern Steel, it’s part of Selby-Rickit’s job to constantly talk to the defenders around her. But she admits the words haven’t easily rolled off her tongue.
“That’s the biggest challenge for me,” says the former Silver Fern, known by team-mates as ‘Hu’.
“I’ve hardly ever spoken on court. For me, it’s always been about keeping my mind focused on the game.
“But now I’m having to take on the leadership at my end of the court, especially with all the younger girls around me. So it’s about getting the balance right – talking to them, making sure everyone is comfortable in their jobs, but still concentrating on my job.”
Selby-Rickit, who’s among the leaders for rebounds in this season’s ANZ Premiership, hasn’t yet mastered the balancing act.
“Sometimes I’m talking to someone on my team, and the ball flies straight past my head,” she says. “I get so annoyed with myself.
“At goal keep, you stand there for a few minutes thinking ‘How did I let that happen?’ And then it happens again. But it’s a part of my game that is getting better.”
The great influencers
Selby-Rickit is now the oldest head in the Steel, the national champions for the last two years, and one of the most experienced – with 145 games at the premier tier of New Zealand domestic netball. She’s one of the rare players still in the league who’s been around since the ANZ Championship began in 2008.
She shares the captaincy role with midcourter Gina Crampton – the two players taking on the job so ably filled by Wendy Frew for the last five seasons.
“It’s a strange role that I’ve never had to do before,” Selby-Rickit says. “Because I started so young, I’ve always had people leading me. I’ve always been trying to soak so much in.”
Selby-Rickit moved to Invercargill as a 16-year-old, her promise recognised by renowned southern coach Robyn Broughton. She was mature for her age, possessed a canny ability to read play, and she was tall – inheriting her 1.84m height from her All Black lock father, Hud Rickit.
A part of the very first Steel side in 2008, Selby-Rickit followed Broughton to the Central Pulse in 2012 where she played four seasons, before returning to the Steel.
Over the years, she’s been influenced by some of the great circle defenders in the modern game.
“When I first got on court for the Steel, I was playing with Leana de Bruin, and she’s a big talker. I almost didn’t have to think for myself; I always knew where she was,” she says.
“Then I played with Katrina Grant [now Rore] at the Pulse. She and I hardly spoke on court, we just moved at the same time. That was awesome.
“When I came back to the Steel and played with Jane Watson, she’s a big talker but she’s also moving all the time. They are all so different, but I learned so much from them all.”
But it was Frew, at wing defence, who probably had the biggest impact on Selby-Rickit.
“As our captain she did a lot of things we didn’t even realise she was doing. Nothing was ever an issue with her. I want to pick up more of her organisational skills and the way she treats people around her,” Selby-Rickit says.
She also wishes she’d learned to cook like Frew – who was famous for whipping up a chicken pie or a batch of biscuits for her team-mates.
When the teenaged Selby-Rickit first moved to Invercargill, she lived with Frew’s parents for two years, then Frew’s younger sister for a year, before moving in with Frew and her husband Trent.
“Then I bought a house here, but I still went round to her place for dinner almost every night last year,” she laughs.
She hopes that Frew will return to the Steel in a mentoring role next month (when the Frew family return from living in Rotorua).
“I can’t wait for that; just having her around, and sharing her experiences with the younger ones,” she says.
Although Ōtaki will always be Selby-Rickit’s home (her hapu is Ngāti Pareraukawa, her marae Ngatokowaru in Levin), Invercargill has forged a special place in her heart.
She loves how much people love netball there. “You can have a full conversation about the game with anyone at the supermarket. But they also comment on what you have in your trolley,” she says.
She bought a house closer to the Steel’s home, the ILT Stadium Southland, because, she says “I love my sleep – it takes me exactly one minute and 30 seconds to get from my front door to Court One; perfect.”
Having finished her teaching degree, Selby-Rickit plans to start teaching at Te Wharekura O Arowhenua, a Māori language total immersion school in Invercargill, later in the season. New Silver Ferns shooter Aliyah Dunn did her early schooling there.
The stress of the black dress
Selby-Rickit played two tests for the Silver Ferns in 2013. But she isn’t hellbent on making it back into black dress.
“I know how much commitment it takes – it fills your whole year with netball,” she says. “I found it tough, because I love travelling.The last few years, I’ve played seven months and then gone overseas, and come back refreshed and excited about playing netball.” (At the end of last season, she toured around Europe, and even made a cameo appearance for the Manchester Thunder in England’s Fast5 all-star championships.)
“I think the Ferns are amazing, giving their focus to netball all year round. And all the defenders in the team now are playing so well. For me now, it’s focusing on Steel and doing as well as I possibly can.”
She’s a huge supporter of her younger sister and team-mate,Te Paea Selby-Rickit, who’s battling her way back into the Silver Ferns side for this year’s world championships. The shooter, who’s played 37 tests, missed out on the Ferns tour of England earlier this year.
Te Huinga Reo finds it difficult watching her sister from the sidelines. “When I go to [Silver Ferns] games with Mum, it’s so stressful. It’s way worse than playing,” she says.
“Watching my sister play, and as a shooter, is double the anxiety.” Their mother, Mereana – tumuaki (CEO) of Māori university Te Wānaga o Raukawa – goes to every Silver Ferns game her daughters play.
The siblings don’t talk a lot about netball away from the court. Nor does the elder sibling try to offer her shooter sister advice (even though she began her career as a goal shoot).
“I see our job down the other end of the court is to win as much ball as we can for the shooters,” Te Huinga Reo says. “At the end of the game, I want to see a big number of attempts from our shooters. Honestly, I don’t really care if they miss their goals – for me, it’s about getting the turnovers and getting the ball to them so they can have the breathing room to get the ball in.”
So far, so good. The Steel’s new goal shoot, Lenize Potgieter, is the second highest shooter in the league (behind the Stars’ Maia Wilson).
The Steel top the points table after five games, but their closest rivals, the Pulse, have only played four matches and are the sole unbeaten team.
Tonight they meet in their first showdown since last year’s premiership grand final, where the Steel snatched a 54-53 victory in the closing seconds.
“This is a very big game – the kind you dread, and wait for,” Selby-Rickit says. “We love, and hate, playing the Pulse.”
Does she think her team can pull off a three-peat premiership victory this season?
“We definitely believe we can win again, but we also know it’s going to be really tough. We know the importance of playing home, and making sure we either win or get that bonus point, because this season, every single point matters.”