Mystics captain Sulu Fitzpatrick has been the driving force in her netball side’s success this season. As they go into the national league’s grand final this weekend, those closest to her share why when Fitzpatrick leads, you can’t help but follow.
If you’re wondering what’s been the key to the Northern Mystics’ run to the ANZ Premiership grand final for the first time in 10 years, the answer is simple – the captaincy of Sulu Fitzpatrick.
So what is it about the Silver Ferns defender and mother of twins, Tevita and Theresa, that makes her a leader straight out of the top drawer, in her first season in the role?
Mystics vice captain Michaela Sokolich-Beatson, a much-talked about future leader, has probably had the front row seat observing Fitzpatrick’s captaincy, as her second Achilles injury restricted her to helping the team from the bench this season. She describes Fitzpatrick as a pillar of strength.
“The team probably isn’t fully aware of how deeply she cares about every one of them as people, as well as players,” she says. “Sulu is able to authentically be herself, which I believe allows others to do the same.”
Fitzpatrick has led the Mystics by example on the court, too, this season. She’s been crowned MVP four times, and leads the league for rebounds with 29, just ahead of Tactix defender Karin Burger – who’s sure to be a thorn in the Mystics’ side in Sunday’s final. Fitzpatrick is also right up there in deflections (52) and intercepts (19).
Kate Burley, her partner in crime at the defensive end, says Fitzpatrick is one of the most caring leaders she’s ever come across.
“Sulu is so fierce and so strong but so soft at the same time. When she needs to pull the group together she can do it with so much love and she’s so calm, but when we’re not doing our job she can whip us into shape.”
Former England captain Ama Agbeze, who led the Roses to a Commonwealth Games gold medal, says Fitzpatrick leads by example with a calming, balanced approach.
“Sulu is definitely one of the main reasons we are where we are in the competition. She’s a great link between players and management, and has worked really hard to input in a way that is well received.
“She’s also very good at reading a situation and balancing things as necessary.”
Fa’amu Ioane, who returned to the Mystics this year after a season in 2016, is close friends with Fitzpatrick. She says everyone has the utmost respect for their skipper and they know she always has their back.
“Sulu has been the driver of our team culture, expecting a lot from us and pushing us to become better players. She set the bar really high because she knows what we are capable of,” she says.
“When we are going through a rough time she will gift each player something small with encouraging words to keep us going. Or she simply gets in touch to check we’re okay.”
Promising shooter Filda Vui says Fitzpatrick has the ability to drive results by creating an environment of success.
“Sulu is the voice for our team and I love that she uses that voice. She always has a proactive attitude asking ‘what’s next?’ and knows what to focus on when challenges arise,” Vui says.
“In the pre-season she set us the biggest goal – that we have the team to win this thing. She really believed it, so we started to believe it more and more.”
Bailey Mes, the only survivor from the Mystics’ last finals appearance in 2011, says Fitzpatrick is always working hard to be better and that “makes us better as a team.”
“Sulu has a way of connecting with people on a deeper level. She makes everyone feel valued regardless of who they are or where they come from. She is selfless – always willing to do what’s best for the team.”
And for the final words on the Mystics’ skipper, we went to the brains trust of assistant coach Rob Wright and head coach Helene Wilson.
Wright, the Mystics’ import from across the Tasman, says Fitzpatrick’s captaincy has played a massive role in the Mystics’ success.
“It should not be underestimated how important it is to get the right person as captain – and Sulu is the right person,” he says. “She knows what’s required to be successful and knows what each of the players need. Some need a rocket, while others needs a hug. Sulu also knows when it is time to go to work and when to have a laugh.”
Wilson says having someone who knows what it takes to win the ANZ Premiership (after Fitzpatrick’s win with the Pulse in 2019) has brought another level of expectation to the group.
“Sulu’s ability to create a ‘one team’ approach has been exceptional. She sees the strengths in everyone and ensures everyone feels valued and can reach their potential as an athlete and a person.
“Sulu is the first person to put her hand up when she’s challenged. She ensures everyone feels safe to be real and grow together as we strive towards our ultimate performance.”
Wilson says Fitzpatrick’s ability to bring people together for a common purpose is her strongest attribute.
“This is Sulu’s greatest gift. She believes wholeheartedly that collective unity is the greatest strength of the group, and she is at the heart of ensuring this happens,” she says.
Win or lose in Sunday’s final, Fitzpatrick will pull the group together with love, she’ll use her voice, make everyone feel valued, and offer some hugs or have a laugh – knowing exactly what her players need.
* The Mystics meet the Tactix in the ANZ Premiership grand final at Spark Arena, Auckland, on Sunday at 3.30pm; live on Sky Sport 2 and Prime.