Girls glove up for world championships
Kayla Rangiawha and Kuraroa Ratu- James need only look across the classroom to find a training partner in preparation for their appearance on the world stage this winter.
The year 13 Wellington East schoolmates both made the 17-member Junior White Sox team for the world championships in Canada in July.
Selection was a new high for 16-year-old Rangiawha, while Ratu-James, 17, will achieve the rare feat of making two world championship appearances while at school.
Ratu-James made her first Junior White Sox squad in 2009 and competed at the 2011 world championships in South Africa, where New Zealand finished fifth. The first world junior women's tournament was held in 1981 but until this year the championships had been four years apart.
"I've been involved for a long time and it's weird being one of the senior players now," Ratu- James said.
But she is thrilled to have Rangiawha as a team-mate.
"We are very good friends and spend a lot of time together. We try to help each other at school and with the softball.
"I'm actually really proud of Kayla. She has come a long way."
Rangiawha had feared that a hip injury in December, which forced her to miss the national under-17 and under-19 tournaments last month, could have cost her a place in the team.
"I thought maybe they would be looking at me for 2015 rather than this year."
However, Rangiawha had shown enough ability when playing for a New Zealand selection in Perth in October and at the Junior White Sox training camp to make the final cut.
Earning selection for the world championships was a long process, with the initial training squad announced last August.
"When I looked at the squad, most of them had so much more experience than me, so I started working hard, to show that I wanted to be in the team," Rangiawha said.
She credits experienced international Alison Boys for much of her progress.
"She [Boys] is a catcher, like me, and has been working with me as a mentor for two years. She helped me realise that I want to go further - want to play for New Zealand."
Rangiawha switched to the Newlands club last year, in order to play at premier one level, and Newlands coach Glen Roff said her work ethic had been a major factor in her development.
"It [Junior White Sox selection] is largely down to her dedication to the game - she's softball driven.
"She's put in a lot of extra effort. She's always the first there [at training] and the last to leave and does a lot of work outside her club training.
"She works hard in the gym, is keen to learn and constantly working on her game.
"Because she's an athlete, she has played in a number of positions and has picked them up well," Roff said. "But as a utility, she has to be able to hit and she can.
"She's got huge potential and the best is yet to come. She's a player of the future."
Ratu-James, who was playing club softball for Te Aroha as an 11-year-old, said she owed much to renowned coach Mike Walsh.
"He did a lot of work with me and inspired me to get where I am today.
"But there have always been a lot of people around to help me - Mum's family are softball freaks."
Softball has always been a priority for Ratu-James but she has also played netball, touch rugby, rugby sevens and is fitting in training with the Wellington East waka ama crew around her softball commitments.
"I always put softball first but I really enjoy waka ama. It gives me a break from softball and gets my fitness levels up. It's good for building your core strength."
Ratu-James and Rangiawha have also impressed White Sox coach and national coaching director Naomi Shaw.
"They are so young and so talented," Shaw said. "They are both pretty big players for our future.
"Kuraroa is quite outstanding and the challenge for us will be to keep her interested and excited about the game. She is such an athlete that different sports will be chasing her.
"She has a range of skills. She's a very good hitter and outstanding in the field, at short stop or third base. Not much gets past her and she has a strong throw.
"She's very quick on base and is often called on to steal [a base].
"Kayla is fairly new to the elite level and it was her athleticism which brought her to my attention," Shaw said.
"She was a bit of a long shot in the New Zealand selection team [which went to Perth in October] but proved herself with an excellent hitting performance against tough opposition and is quite multi-talented in the field."
The Dominion Post