In the days when Sam Sinclair attended Magic matches as a youngster, she always idolised Casey Kopua.
Sinclair now doesn't have to pay to get in, and Kopua is her captain.
It's really pinch-yourself stuff for the 18-year-old from Rotorua, who made her debut for the Waikato-Bay of Plenty side in last weekend's opening round of the trans-Tasman league, coming on at centre to replace Courtney Tairi for the fourth quarter of the 70-46 belting of the Mainland Tactix in Christchurch.
"Every single game that I went to as a young kid, I was just in awe of Casey," Sinclair said. "And to have her as my captain now is pretty unreal. And I get that reaction from a lot of people who say 'So is Casey in your team?' and I'm like 'Yes she is, and I feel exactly the same way as you do'."
Sinclair has played netball since the age of 6, going through school and age-group rep sides.
Last year she was in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty team which won the inaugural national under-23 competition and co-captained the New Zealand secondary school side, her third year in that team.
Completing her final year at John Paul College, where she was deputy head girl, Sinclair, a self-confessed "sports fanatic" played a heap of codes, and while netball was the destined path, the others all helped her on her way.
"Basketball training, obviously it's pretty good for netball, a bit heavier ball, so a bit more resistance there; getting your speed up at touch and athletics obviously."
Sinclair has now moved to Hamilton and taken up residence at the University of Waikato halls, as she juggles netball with a Bachelor of Management Studies.
"I'm managing to get my time organised a little bit. It's taken a wee effort," she said.
"I've got a few people taking notes for me, so we should be sweet."
It was a bonus for Sinclair to get game-time so early in the season, and she didn't have long to think about stepping on court, where she marked experienced English international Jade Clarke.
"It was definitely not expected. I was certainly thinking 'Oh yeah, we've got a bit of a lead, there could be a possibility that I'd go on' and it wasn't until [coach] Julie [Fitzgerald] said 'Ok Sam, you're up' that I was like 'Oh my goodness, I'm actually on'. From then on, just before I went on, it was mainly about calming my nerves and making sure, mentally, I was in a good state to go out there.
"The ball just came down court at an incredibly fast pace, and on both attack and defence you just had to be ready to go all the time.
"Looking back, it kind of passed in a bit of a blur, that 15 minutes was probably the fastest 15 minutes of my life. And I can't be thinking 'Oh I wish I did this, I wish I did that' because that's just not how it goes."
Sinclair said that while it was a great experience, she was kind of glad her first game was now out of the way. She played with confidence, mainly because the rest of the team believed in her, and she received good feedback from Fitzgerald afterwards.
"Julie did say after the game to me that coming on in the last quarter is always hard, and especially being my first game, was even harder. But she was happy with my game, I did my job, slotted in well, and we still won that last quarter, so it's OK."
It was a sterling performance from the new-look Magic, who were the only New Zealand team to win in the first week of the competition. While a few bumbles were expected with new combinations, Sinclair said the team were confident they had the right stuff.
"We were quite content to go into that game being the underdogs, because we knew what we were made of. And we were so ready to come out and give everyone a shock. It wasn't a shock to us that we could play like that."
Sinclair has been told she's again on the bench for the match against the Northern Mystics in Auckland on Monday, and is realistic that this game should be tighter and that she may not get on. But the New Zealand under-21 squad member is just wanting to constantly improve, pushing herself to better at each training and game than she was previously.
- Fairfax Media