Captain Luciana Nicholas, Marjorie Toru, Anania Piri, Daimzel Rongokea and team most valuable player (MVP) Alanna Smith were the local contingent of the squad that was undefeated in the Nations Cup tournament in Singapore, and won effusive praise from Netball Cook Islands president PJ Hockin.
“Girls, amazing result, thank you. We’re just so thrilled. I do really want to thank you all for the hard work you put in and the sacrifices that you made to get there,” Hockin said at the airport’s VIP lounge.
She also acknowledged that there was much more work to do, with the qualifiers next April in Auckland, ahead of the 2019 World Cup, the next goal.
“There’s still a long way to go. I hope that you all stay on board, so that we are all working together and staying strong.”
Titikaveka MP Selina Napa followed with more strong praise for the girls, but also gave them a word of advice.
“I’m really glad that the team went away to Singapore to start building yourselves up for big games and tournaments. I’ve always believed that the core of the Cook Islands team should be from here,” Napa said.
“And there is one thing that I must ask you young players, please don’t get pregnant!” she said, laughing.
Nicholas reflected on the tournament, about how they had gone into it with low expectations, only to see a strong sense of pride and love develop between the girls.
“When we left here, we weren’t totally sure what we were going to come up against, what the teams would be like. All we went by what was on YouTube,” Nicholas explained.
“We studied them as a team, along with management, about how we were going to counteract those (opposing) teams. And after our first game against Malaysia, we were successful.
“After that, we weren’t sure what we were going to come up against with Hong Kong, because they were full of 37, 38 - even a 46-year-old. Our girls played extremely well, and from those two games they seemed a lot more comfortable with each other.”
Coming into the tournament, the team had only managed two camps together, and the lack of teamwork in the build-up was a worry for Nicholas.
“We weren’t actually that confident, but after that second game I saw that these girls began to love each other, respect each other, and just to have that team spirit was fantastic,” she said, fighting back her emotion.