Rio on horizon for Girls High sevens star

BEN STRANG
Last updated 05:00 19/06/2014
Awatea Whitiora-Te Uira
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
STAR IN THE MAKING: Remember the name Awatea Whitiora-Te Uira. She'll be a New Zealand sevens player in the next few years.

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New Zealand women's sevens coach Sean Horan's player radar went ballistic the first time he saw Awatea Whitiora-Te Uira take the field.

The 17-year-old Hamilton Girls High School student is a star in the making, and has her sights set on playing for New Zealand at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

If she continues to improve over the next two years, she'll be a lock for Horan's squad.

She's all ready had a taste of the New Zealand setup, when the Hawaii-bound Under-20 World Championship Girls High team trained in Mt Maunganui before leaving.

"We got invited over to the New Zealand camp before we went to Hawaii," Whitiora-Te Uira said.

"I got to meet the coach, and he's called us and stuff. He told us what we can work on in Hawaii.

"Me and Tenika Willison have just started Pathway to Podium, and I think Sean put us in that. He gave us a phone call a couple of weeks ago saying he wants to develop us, to hopefully one day get contracted."

It took time to get to this point for Whitiora-Te Uira, who started playing sevens rugby four years ago during year 10 at Girls High.

Her only previous rugby experience came from a couple of matches for her brother's team while she was at primary school, and nobody would pass her the ball.

"Because I was a girl they only passed me the ball like once. So I didn't really like it. I never got the ball."

Now she's one of the go-to members of the Girls High team, and says the main thing she likes about sevens is the atmosphere.

"I used to play netball, but I don't really like it any more. It's just the whole feeling around sevens, which I like," she said.

"Our coaches set up a really good atmosphere for training and games. It's really professional, and it's good because [coach Crystal Kaua] has that experience of like the Black Ferns.

"Ever since I started I knew I wanted to do it as a job, and that's probably because of Crystal."

She's already played for Waikato at the national sevens in Rotorua in January, where the team finished third, and has had her fair share of travel with the Girls High team.

After winning the Aloha World Sevens in Hawaii earlier this month, the girls are back into fundraising for another international trip next year.

Should she make the New Zealand squad, that travel will expand to places like Brazil, Dubai, China and Holland.

There is plenty of motivation, particularly from the Waikato girls who have already made it into the New Zealand setup.

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"One of our good friends from Girls High has already made it, Shiray Tane, so it does motivate us."

Tane, Jordon Webber, Chelsea Alley, Carla Hohepa and Honey Hireme are all Waikato players who have played for New Zealand this year. Expect Whitiora-Te Uira to be added to that list sooner rather than later.

- Waikato Times

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