With new self-belief, Maia Wilson will tick off her first major tournament for the Silver Ferns at this month’s Commonwealth Games, and tells Merryn Anderson of her personal goal to strengthen her repertoire.
She’s been a mainstay of New Zealand netball over the last few years, but sometimes it’s easy to forget Maia Wilson is just 24 years old.
And perhaps even harder to believe that when the shooting anchor hops on the plane to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games in two weeks, she’ll be heading to the first pinnacle event of her Silver Ferns career.
“It was something I feel like I’ve been striving for for a while,” the Northern Stars captain says.
“I’ve been in this environment for five or six years, but I’ve never actually been chosen for a pinnacle event; I’ve been picked for every other thing.
“So to finally get the confirmation I’d be on the plane was a massive sigh of relief – and just absolute elation – because it was something I hadn’t been able to tick off.”
Wilson was 19 when she made her international debut in 2016, but was overlooked for the 2018 Commonwealth Games and 2019 World Cup, as Maria Folau and Ameliaranne Ekenasio made their mark in the black dress.
She was a non-travelling reserve for the triumphant World Cup team, but this time she’s a key cog in the 12-strong team vying for Commonwealth Games gold.
With 28 test caps to her name, Wilson isn’t approaching the Games any differently to her other Ferns appearances, but she appreciates the significance of such a big event.
“Any time you get the opportunity to wear the black dress, you’re just absolutely over the moon. But there’s something special in particular with the Comm Games,” she says.
“You’re part of a wider New Zealand team and to experience something bigger than just netball is quite amazing. So I’d love to finally be on a larger world stage than what I’ve been used to.”
Unlike previous Games where there was one athlete village, the New Zealand team will be spread over five bases in Birmingham – the netballers staying with the Kiwi boxers, weightlifters and the badminton duo.
As a first-timer at the Games, Wilson is excited for the experience, but also knows the self-discipline it takes to control all the distractions coming from being in a bigger environment of athletes.
This season, she played in all 17 of the Stars’ games, captaining the team to the grand final – where they were beaten, 56-37, by a dominant Central Pulse side.
Wilson says the Stars’ connections on attack were key to reaching the final, especially her link with Ferns wing attack and captain, Gina Crampton.
“I was really happy with the way I finished the season with the Stars,” Wilson says. “I started off a little bit shaky but then I began to find my groove.”
Wilson was one of the victims of the illness that swamped players at trials, and was only able to attend the latter half of camp. With so many players affected, Silver Ferns coach Dame Noeline Taurua chose on form over the last 18 months.
“I was grateful to be in the mix for a bit. I wasn’t the greatest, but I was really fortunate it was my ANZ season that pushed me over,” Wilson says.
Wilson was the third most prolific shooter in this year’s ANZ Premiership, following the Pulse’s Aliyah Dunn and UK import George Fisher. Slotting 574 goals from 662 attempts, Wilson finished the season on 87 percent accuracy, and attributes her success to sticking to her own game plan.
“I think it was more just me being authentically me and having a bit more confidence and self-belief in what I was doing,” Wilson says. “And then just having the courage to be like ‘Oh I know I can do my job and I am quite a good shooter’ so it was more just emphasising that self-belief and finding a way.”
The Cadbury Netball Series begins next Wednesday, with the Silver Ferns taking on a NZ A side, the NZ men’s team and a mixed invitational side. The opposing teams are stacked with former Silver Ferns – including legends Leana de Bruin and reserve Donna Wilkins in the mixed team, who will be 45 and 44 years old respectively during the series.
The chance to play against a range of youth, experience and the physical battle of the men will be the perfect preparation for the challenges they’ll face in Birmingham, Wilson says.
“We’ve been talking all week about how we need the hardest build-up and we need people to push us as hard as we can because we’re not going to get anything less at Comm Games. We’ve had NZA in camp for the last couple of days too, so we’ve really been able to bump up against them. I think that’s been quite helpful for us, learning where our potential gaps are.
“I think that’s another extension of what Cadbury will do and the different variations of people in the other teams, the men and the mixed in particular, it will be a completely different style of game.”
Wilson will team up with Grace Nweke, Bailey Mes and Te Paea Selby-Rickit in the shooting circle for the Ferns – the latter duo part of the last two pinnacle events.
With Nweke still recovering from her ankle injury, Wilson will likely slot in at goal shoot. But she’s also working on adding goal attack to her repertoire, and hopes to spend more time there next year.
“I know my bread and butter is goal shoot, but the more I can dabble at goal attack in the ANZ season, the more I can take into the Silver Ferns environment,” she says. Her biggest goal is being part of the 2023 World Cup team to defend their title.
“We’ve been testing different combos over the last couple of days and it gives us a massive variety having people who are able to do both and bringing different strengths to the game.”
The Silver Ferns will open their Commonwealth Games campaign against Northern Ireland, at 5am (NZT) on July 30, and will also play Uganda, Malawi, Trinidad and Tobago and defending champs England in pool play.
“We’re going there to win, we don’t want to come back with anything less,” says Wilson.
“For myself as an individual, I just want to put my best foot forward and make sure I’m contributing to the collective as best as I can in whatever capacity that is.
“We have 12 people who can really be in any starting seven, so no matter if you’re on the court or not, you’ve got to be prepared and be ready to go on. I know to take the opportunity with two hands no matter where I am.”
*The Cadbury Netball Series starts on Wednesday July 13, with the Silver Ferns facing NZ A in their first game. Coverage is live on Sky Sport 1 from 6pm Wednesday-Friday and the finals broadcast on Sky Sport 2 from 2pm on Saturday.