Once told she’d never make it as a netballer, Oceane Maihi has dug in her toes and overcome major injuries to become one of the country’s top defenders. Now she’s spurring youngsters in the north to follow her lead.
Oceane Maihi is one very proud Northlander. As we talk, the up-and-coming defender stresses how important her home region remains to her – even though she’s now about to play for the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic.
The girl who grew up in the small town of Rawene, in the Hokianga, wants to share the highs and lows of her journey with other young Northlanders – so they know if they really want something, they can achieve it, no matter where you come from. Or what other people might say.
Maihi, who’s training in the Silver Ferns camp in Wellington this week, has endured a tough run with some major injuries. Told she should give up netball, she persevered, and became a qualified physiotherapist along the way.
“Coming from up north, there’s not a lot of access to coaches, to facilities that people down in Auckland have,” she says.
“I want people and young kids to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your journey is like and what happens along the way – if you really want something and you work for it, you can get there.
“It’s about surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, and people who want to help you to achieve those things, rather than listening to other people’s opinions.”
An in-circle defender, Maihi played 13 games in her first fully-contracted season with the Northern Stars this year, wearing the purple dress in the defence alongside Anna Harrison and Elle Temu.
It was a successful season for Maihi, ending in selection for the Silver Ferns development squad.
But she isn’t putting any pressure on herself ahead of the Silver Ferns camp starting Wednesday – instead adopting the healthy relationship she’s had with netball since a string of injuries halted her progress.
Maihi played netball throughout school and in her final year, transferred from Kerikeri High School to Mount Albert Grammar School (MAGS), the academy famous for producing elite netball talent.
After falling off a horse and injuring her back – “being a country girl,” she laughs – Maihi was unable to trial for the school’s premier team, which in 2013, boasted future ANZ Premiership players Jamie-Lee Price, Maia Wilson, Holly Fowler and Chiara Semple.
Having moved to the city for netball, it was a difficult time for Maihi – away from home and unable to play to the best of her ability.
When there was an injury in the premier team, Maihi was invited to travel with them to the national secondary schools championships, which MAGS won with a comprehensive final victory over Wellington’s St Mary’s College.
“It was a really cool experience to be able to do it, but I didn’t actually get to play much with the prem team, because I just wasn’t good enough at that time,” says Maihi.
“You don’t realise the difference in skill and what the girls learn down in Auckland. You’re already a few steps behind them… so it was a real big eye-opener for me.”
Before receiving her first contract as a training partner for the Stars in 2020, Maihi had already battled through numerous injuries, along with five surgeries (including on both hips).
“It definitely slowed down the process – I would get to a team and be learning and growing and then I’d get injured again,” says Maihi, whose most recent injury was her ACL about four years ago.
Mum, Nicky, and dad, Arepata (known as Sibby), have been Maihi’s biggest supporters, watching every game. They would even drive down to Auckland to watch Maihi play club netball.
It was Nicky who suggested finding a passion outside of her sport, seeing how injuries had stalled Maihi’s playing career.
Their support encouraged Maihi to pursue a degree in physiotherapy, a four-year degree at AUT, which she completed while recovering from her surgeries.
“I’m a believer in things happen for a reason and you go through that journey to make you a better person, and a better athlete,” says Maihi on her injuries. “It’s definitely made me more aware of my body and looking after myself.”
The encouragement from her parents inspired Maihi to continue with netball and rise above.
“I’ve had quite a few people along the way with my injuries say ‘That’s a sign you should just stop netball’, ‘You’re getting all these injuries, you should just give it up’,” says Maihi.
“I’ve had people say ‘You’re not good enough’ or ‘You’ll never make it’. And it was definitely my parents who helped me to believe that it didn’t matter what other people thought, if I was willing to put in the hard work, that’s the half of it.”
Always loyal to her home, Maihi’s goal is to open a physio clinic in the north with her partner, Levi Quitta, also a Northlander, who’s a personal trainer and works in strength and conditioning.
“We want to make that available to anyone, but especially young kids up there aspiring to be sportspeople. Or supporting them on whatever journey they want to go on,” Maihi explains.
Physio is taking a backseat right now, as Maihi focuses on netball, but it has a significant place in her future.
“I love physio and I love helping, especially young sportspeople, but I found that I wasn’t able to give 100 percent to netball and to physio. I didn’t want to do any one half-pie or not do it justice,” she says.
“There’s only a window of time that you can be a professional athlete, so I wanted to give it a good crack and put all my energy into that and see where it goes. Physio will always be there, whereas you have a short time frame with netball.”
That focus has led her to a new team this year, joining a defensively-stacked Magic side.
Leaving the Stars was not an easy decision for Maihi, a loyal player who first joined their ranks in 2019 as an injury replacement at the Super Club competition.
“Even though I was only fully contracted with the Stars for a year, I had been around the environment for quite a while. And I really wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone and do something new,” says Maihi.
“I haven’t had the easiest journey in terms of injuries and other things. I owe a lot to Kiri [coach Kiri Wills] and the Stars and I appreciate them so much for giving me my first opportunity and seeing that talent when I was coming up.”
The revamped Magic side doesn’t lack experience, with new coach Mary-Jane Araroa collecting 320 Silver Fern caps in her squad; new mum Katrina Rore leading the way with 137 international games under her belt.
With five players in their 30s, and an average age of 28, Maihi is the third youngest in the Magic team, at 25 – a contrast to the Stars where Maihi was one of the older players.
Maihi will be teaming up with Rore, Erena Mikaere, and the newest Silver Fern, Georgia Tong, in the Magic defensive circle, and is excited to see what combinations coach Araroa trials.
“The big thing she’s pushed is that you’ll be given an opportunity and it’s what you make of that opportunity and the effort you put in to get on court,” Maihi says.
“She’s very much about making and building those connections so it’s not necessarily about the best player – it’s about the best group, or the best connection you might have with someone.”
Rore isn’t attending this week’s Silver Ferns camp, but other new mums Phoenix Karaka and Kayla Johnson are both returning to the international environment. That bolsters the squad, and makes selection even more difficult for coach Dame Noeline Taurua and assistant coach Debbie Fuller.
Maihi’s first Silver Ferns camp was in 2020, when she was selected as injury cover. “That was really unexpected because I hadn’t even had an ANZ contract that year, I was just a training partner,” she recalls.
After a fully contracted season this year, Maihi shed happy tears when the news sank in she was part of the Ferns development squad.
“When you’ve been told by other people ‘no’, to actually get named in the development squad was a dream come true,” she says.
Maihi is happy to see where her journey takes her, with no expectations at the moment.
“I play netball because I love it, so I’m just making sure that I go and give it my best shot,” she says. “If anything comes from it, then that’s amazing, and if not, that’s okay, there’s still lots of time for me to learn and to grow so that I’m ready.
“That’s the talk with Debbie and Noels – if you’re ready, they’ll take you, and if you’re not, it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough. It just means you’re not quite ready for it yet. It’s making sure you don’t put that pressure on yourself.”
Maihi’s healthy approach to netball has taken her far and continues to support her career. She knows if she hadn’t had those setbacks, she might not be where she is today.
“Having those things happen, they’ve made me more resilient to trusting the process and making the most of those opportunities that you get.”