Former New Zealand and South Island volleyball representative Caroline Raynes is relishing the chance to play competitive volleyball regularly in Invercargill.
The talented sportswoman is part of the Stadium Southland-sponsored women's team playing in the new Southland premier volleyball league.
Raynes, a teacher at James Hargest College, represented New Zealand in volleyball at secondary school level, played at club level while at University for the Dunedin Vikings and represented the South Island women's team.
Since then she has been enjoying Southland's social volleyball scene, but says the introduction of the premier league - a six-week competition for Southland's top teams - has been a winner.
"It has been fantastic," she said.
"Playing in the social competition was always fun, but if you wanted to take that step up there wasn't really anywhere to go in Southland until now. It's the competitive aspect that brings me back and keeps me playing - and I'm loving it.
"I love the game, I love the tactics of it all and the camaraderie on court."
Raynes plays alongsideseveral overseas players in the Stadium Southland team, with players from Argentina, Russia, Uruguay and Australia adding plenty of talent to an already strong team. The team won its first two premier league rounds before losing on Monday night, after backing up from winning Sunday's inter-region tournament.
Raynes has also been hugely impressed by the talent of the players representing secondary school teams in the league.
"The students that are playing are all very, very talented which is really encouraging for the sport locally. Evan France, at James Hargest, got me involved in the sport when I was a student there - and he's still there, coaching, and bringing through kids to a very high standard," she said.
"The premier league is proving to be really competitive and that's something we haven't had in Southland for a while. We're making the most of it!"
Volleyball Southland regional development manager Donna Milne said it was great having players of Raynes' ability involved in volleyball in Southland.
"We're trying to make our sport as accessible as possible to all levels - whether through teaching the youngsters at primary school the basics, through to holding competitions like the premier league and the inter-region tournament we held at the weekend," she said.
"We've got some very talented players out there and it's really important that we give them the opportunity to play at that competitive level, which is where this premier competition has had such a positive response."
The premier league now takes a break and will resume for the final three rounds of play on Monday October 14.
- © Fairfax NZ News