The Northern Mystics may be outsiders to deny the Queensland Firebirds a historic march to their inaugural trans-Tasman netball championship title but rookie defender Kayla Cullen already has cause for celebration.
The 19-year-old aspiring florist received a significant bouquet today when she was named as the tournament's best young player ahead of four other contenders - Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick of the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic, Ashleigh Brazill (NSW Swifts), Chelsea Pitman (Queensland Firebirds) and Kate Shimmin of the Adelaide Thunderbirds.
Cullen, who plays goal defence in combination with Silver Fern Anna Scarlett, was a popular winner after being among the nominees in her debut season for the Auckland-based franchise last year.
It was just reward for Cullen, who plays the biggest match of her career in Sunday's grand final against the unbeaten Queensland Firebirds in Brisbane.
Fortunately for Cullen she was eligible to be nominated for the 2011 award because she did not exceed the maximum allowance of five games last year.
Cullen, who was last week named in the competition's All Star team at wing defence, has been a regular in the Mystics starting line-up following the departure of Jamaican international Althea Byfield and has enjoyed the added exposure.
"I've found it a lot easier settling in this year, it's really helped having that bit more experience from last season and knowing the girls better. I'm not as nervous as I used to be going on court, I feel right at home now", she said.
Cullen was a member of the FastNet Ferns squad for last year's world netball series champions, and is a member of the national under-21 squad.
Australian coach Norma Plummer agreed Cullen should have won the award "hands down" and was surprised she had not been included in the Silvers Ferns squad for July's world championships in Singapore.
"She is a great talent and definitely a future Silver Fern," Plummer said.