Magic moment for girl hailing netball heroes
A little girl waits, awe-struck by the occasion. Matt Bowen reports.
The look on Huni Te Koi's face is Magic.
It's 4.07pm on Thursday and the 6-year-old is awestruck - her eyes wide and unblinking. They're fixed on her netball heroes, the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic who have just walked on to a stage on the Claudelands Arena floor in Hamilton to raucous applause.
Huni is up on her feet, too, like the crowd of young fans hugging the stage. Her cheeks are striped with red, yellow and black, she's got a Magic booklet held close and a "thunderstick" in her hand.
Boom! Confetti flys up and over the Magic players and management. The team that frayed fan nerves and made history last Sunday with a gutsy win over the Melbourne Vixens in Australia to claim the trans-Tasman netball league grand final - the first Kiwi team to do so.
Huni searches the faces - there's Laura Langman, Elias Shadrock and Erena Mikaere - but her favourite, Irene van Dyk, is absent.
"She was sad Irene wasn't here because she's her favourite player," her aunt Rona says. "She'll play like her one day, that's what she always says."
Huni goes to all the Magic's home games. She and six others took half a day off school, travelling from Ngaruawahia to welcome them home. Huni plays wing attack for the Turangawaewae Mokos every weekend but wants to wear WD for the Magic one day.
After Mayor Julie Hardaker spoke of how proud Hamilton and the Waikato were, and each team member said a few words, a slightly nervous Huni got whipped on to Langman's knee for a photo at a signing session.
"I'm really overwhelmed to be honest," Langman says.
"For me it's the first day it's really sunk in. I think it's a great opportunity to say thanks to [the fans]. We get so many emails and Facebook messages, but we don't personally get to reply to every one of them so it's not about us today - it's about them. To say thanks for enjoying the ride and hanging in there.
"This season we've given them heart palpitations and they've chewed their nails off so it's really great to celebrate what's been a huge occasion with them."
Netballers champion Chiefs
"Go the Chiefs!" That's straight from the mouth of the champion Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic captain Laura Langman.
"I think everyone's coming to the game," she said. "They've had a stormer of a season as well and how great would it be if we had both titles in one region?"
She said they were honoured to be invited to do a victory lap before the semifinal clash kicks off between the Chiefs and Crusaders at Waikato Stadium tonight.
"The girls are very excited."
So are Peter and Janice Cumming.
They don't just wear their Chiefs mana on their sleeve - it's pretty much a head-to-toe look at tonight's game.
The Pirongia dairy farmers will swap the gummies and Swannies for "full battle regalia", Mr Cumming said.
"That's Chiefs jersey, socks, scarf, flags, and, of course, my lucky red, black and yellow wig."
About 3000 tickets in all areas of Waikato Stadium are still available for the match.