Former Silver Ferns star Edge still going strong

BACK IN THE DAY: Sandra Edge in action for the Silver Ferns against Australia in 1994.
BACK IN THE DAY: Sandra Edge in action for the Silver Ferns against Australia in 1994.

Sandra Edge never had many goals during her netball career. She just played because she loved it.

That enjoyment took her through a then-record 94 test matches for New Zealand, and runs right through until today, where she is still heavily involved in the sport.

After spending the late 1980s in Hamilton, Edge, 51, now lives in Wellington and is the coach development officer for the Netball Central Zone, whose flagship team is the Central Pulse.

Off her own back she has also recently coached the Wellington under-15 and under-19 sides, and is this year taking a club team.

Sport, as it was all those years back growing up in Tokomaru Bay on the East Coast, is a significant part of Edge's life.

When she was young, Edge was a representative tennis player and didn't make a rep netball team until her last year of high school in 1979.

However, it wasn't long before she began to become a fair bit better than her peers. Edge captained the New Zealand under-21 team in 1982 and, three years later, was staring an international debut in the face.

That was at the Australia Games in Melbourne. Staying in a village-type setup, Edge remembers having massages in a big hall because there was a massage therapy school nearby, with students gaining experience.

Her first test came against Australia, in the final, where she marked Jill McIntosh.

"I remember thinking, if I catch the ball and pass it to one of my team-mates, I can't go wrong," Edge said.

But before the game even started, Edge was on the end of a "dressing down" from coach Lois Muir.

"We were all underneath the stadium in the dressing room and Lois said: ‘I'm telling you right now, that it's hot up there. We know it's going to be hot, we've played in it. Forget it, that's the way it is, just get on with it.' We walked into the stadium and I went ‘Jeepers it's hot' and she was like, ‘Arrrghh at least the air's moving'."

New Zealand went on to win that game, with Edge standing in a pool of sweat for the medal ceremony.

From there, she went on to become the midcourt maestro of the New Zealand team. The Laura Langman of her time, you could say (and no surprise Langman is Edge's favourite current player).

Edge put her athleticism down to playing a range of sports as a youngster, with athletics and gymnastics in particular teaching her about body awareness. She also credits Leigh Gibbs and Lyn Gunson for setting top fitness standards.

Playing at three world championships (1987, 1991 and 1995), it would naturally be assumed the sole win in '87 would be the highlight, though Edge mentions that '91 was also right up there, despite the final being an agonising one-goal loss to Australia in Sydney.

It was the first championships played indoors and the start of the Australia-New Zealand one-goal thrilling-finish rivalry. "To be part of that really intense indoor noise, even though we lost, that was really memorable."

Edge recalls good times in Waikato alongside fellow Ferns Tracey Fear, Margaret Forsyth, Parker and Rhonda Wilcox, along with her days at the Hamilton Old Girls club, where she was roped into coach in her first year.

As well as Waikato, Edge played for four other provinces - Poverty Bay, Wellington, Southland and Auckland.

"That's just the way my life panned out," she said. "I just went where I went. I probably lacked a little bit of direction and lacked a little bit of goal setting, but that's just the way I was back then.

"When I reflect, I regret, in a way, not having more goals. I didn't even really have a goal to play for New Zealand. I just played netball because I loved it. I loved the people. It's just what I did. I loved the competitive side of things. I don't think I put too much thought into planning my career. Had I done that, I probably would have made different choices."

One of her big choices was the decision to take a couple of years away from the sport at the end of 1991.

Edge returned in '94 and became the Ferns' captain, before calling it quits after '95, the year New Zealand came third at the world championships after losing to South Africa.

Just before that, Edge had been made a member of the Order of the British Empire, for services to netball, and in 2002 she was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

Since then, she has managed to stay well involved with the game, both at grassroots and top level, with Ferns coach Waimarama Taumaunu bringing Edge into national camps to share her philosophies and be a sounding board for the players.

Now that Edge's sons Christian (17) and Jeremy (15) have grown up, taking her coaching further is something she will consider, though she admits she isn't overly ambitious at this time, rather enjoying the development side.

Edge's sons are both heavily involved in sport too and, in winter, they play football, taking after dad Rodger Gray, a former All Whites captain.

Edge now plays tennis, and this summer she had her first game of netball since her retirement, taking the court in an outdoor twilight league.

Between work, sport and family commitments, Edge devotes her down-time to watching netball. She likes what she has seen of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic and believes there's no reason why they couldn't pull off a second trans-Tasman league title.

"They have played some absolutely stunning netball this year. I think if they all fire on the same day they will be in with a chance. They've lacked a little bit of consistency, and I think they'll be the first to say that, but put it together and they'll be lethal."

And with two big years for the Ferns, with the Commonwealth Games and the World Cup, Edge said that, knowing Taumaunu and assistant coach Vicki Wilson, the team would be well prepared.

"I don't think any individual is going to make the difference. I think the key for the selectors is to select a team that can really work well together. Aussie are looking pretty dynamic at the moment, the individuals are looking pretty spectacular, some of them. And whilst I have no doubt that we compete there, I think the difference is going to be those links between the players and the trust that they have in each other and the mental freshness to be able to go out there and just go for it."

Waikato Times