Zoe's having a ball

Multi-talented: One of Marlborough’s top netballers, Zoe Johnson has discovered the sport of sevens and has wasted no time in proving her ability in an oval-ball code.
Multi-talented: One of Marlborough’s top netballers, Zoe Johnson has discovered the sport of sevens and has wasted no time in proving her ability in an oval-ball code.

After years of success as a netballer and an athlete, Zoe Johnson, has finally found her true calling in sport.

Last week, Zoe was named in the Tasman women's sevens squad for the 2012-13 season. After being named the women's player of the tournament from the Tasman club sevens in Motueka just a week before, her selection was hardly a surprise.

What was a surprise, though, was it was only nine weeks ago that the easy-going and down-to-earth 20 year-old decided to give the game a crack. Before that, her rugby experience was limited to a couple of games at primary school and a game for Marlborough Girls' College in year 13.

However, a few months ago she saw some sevens on TV which re-ignited her interest in the game. With no women's rugby being played in Marlborough, she got in contact with a friend from netball in Nelson and it was not long before she was travelling over the Whangamoas to train.

"I started with Stoke over in Nelson this season. It was through [Tasman netballer] Moana Forbes. She is in the New Zealand sevens squad and she said ‘come over and have a couple of games'. I loved it and have really grown a passion for it."

A fast and agile defender in netball, Zoe has always loved the physical side of the game and said that was one of the main reasons her passion for sevens had developed so quickly.

"I just enjoyed it and had a lot of fun getting out there and the whistle not getting blown when you run over a few girls.

"There is more room to run and you get to hit a few girls at the same time. Learning new skills, too. I go to trainings and I'm a lot more focused because everything is something I'm learning.

"I've got more of a drive for sevens now than I have ever had for netball. For me, netball was a sport where my mates were so I went and played with them."

Born in Tauranga, Zoe moved to Marlborough with her family at the age of 13. Already a rep netballer at that stage, she had also taken up athletics and quickly began to prove her talents in both. In 2007, she was the under-16 MGC athletics champ, played in the under-17 Marlborough netball side and played her first premier netball season for Smog.

The following year she played netball for Marlborough, Tasman under-19 and MGC, was the under-19 MGC athletics champ and was named MGC's sportsperson of the year.

The accolades continued to flow in 2009, her final year at school. She comfortably retained her under-19 MGC athletics title and won silver in the under-19 javelin at the New Zealand Track and Field Championships. In netball, Zoe again played for Smog and MGC and and, to cap that off, was named Tasman under-19 player of the year and also made the Tasman senior team.

Following a year in Christchurch, Zoe returned to Marlborough in 2011 and after making the switch to Harlequins, won Tasman Trophy and Marlborough titles with the Radich Law premier side.

She admits if there had been women's rugby in Marlborough at the start of this year, she would have started given away netball.

But there wasn't and despite her passion for netball beginning to wane, Zoe still played a key role as Radich Law defended their Marlborough premier grade crown.

Once netball finished at the start of September, though, rugby took over.

Zoe said thanks to her dad Neil and older brother Zane, who were both promising players before hunting took over late in their teenage years, it did not take her long to get to grips with the physical contact.

"I haven't found it too bad. I was brought up with my brother and hung around him. We were always out the back playing rugby. Dad is pretty passionate about rugby as well and he has taught me a few things throughout the years. I definitely didn't find it hard to get out there and go at the big girls."

Zoe also has some family heritage in rugby. Her mum Julie's grandfather was a Maori All Black.

Next weekend, the Tasman sevens side take part in the South Island tournament in Timaru. After nine weeks of travelling to Nelson twice-a-week for trainings, along with a fair bit of her own fitness and strength work, Zoe hopes to get noticed and maybe even "open the eyes of some of the NZ selectors".

Zoe is also keen to join the police and is just about to start the testing process. But, with the 2016 Rio Olympics beckoning, there are some tough decisions to be made.

"I'm in two minds at the moment. I'm pretty keen to go somewhere where there is rugby and coaching available . . . I'd love to travel the world playing sport."


Name: Zoe Johnson.

Nickname: Zo.

Born: Tauranga, 1991.

Educated: Marlborough Girls' College.

Earliest sporting hero: Would have to say Rafael Nadal.

Latest sporting hero: "How bad do you want it" (YouTube clip featuring Giaranna Ruffin, running back for East Carolina).

Must-watch TV programme: X-Factor USA (only because of Demi Lovato).

Must-have food: Sunday roast (cannot go without meat).

What's hot on your MP3 player (walkman/stereo): Demi Lovato - Give Your Heart a Break.

Favourite holiday spot: White sandy beach, hot days, beautiful scenery and decent waves to surf - THE MOUNT.

Superstitions: Bouncing the rugby ball before I drop-kick.

Pet hates: Slow drivers that speed up when getting to a passing lane; or when you run out of toilet paper (that sucks).

Fashion crime: Sneans (Sneakers and jeans).

Favourite sporting moment: Playing sevens for the first time and getting player of the tournament.

Worst sporting moment: Don't really have one.

In five years I'll be: Chasing after criminals (police officer) or travelling the world playing sport.

The Marlborough Express