Letting the Weekly into her Wellington home, new Silver Ferns captain Katrina Grant looks a little overwhelmed.
As the photographer and hair and make-up artist set up, in between offering everyone tea, Katrina begins to laugh as if she can’t quite believe all of this fuss is for her. But as the captain of the national netball side, Katrina quickly concedes she’s going to have to get used to more attention.
While it was a shock, it was also a dream that was a long time coming for the down-to-earth and exuberant star athlete, who first laid her hands on a netball 19 years ago as a 10-year-old living in the south-east Auckland suburb of Beachlands.
“I don’t remember my first game, but I remember training when I was younger. We’d go down to Maraetai Beach School and run around the court five times until we said we were warm, and then go play on the flying fox,” she recalls with a grin.
“It was my older sister Natalie who got me into netball. Whenever she was around, I’d be stuck to her hip, asking what she was doing and if she could pass me the ball.”
From there, Katrina was hooked. The teams she played for became more competitive, she worked harder at trainings and her bedroom was adorned with posters of her idol, Bernice Mene – who was also a captain and goal defence.
“I had her book and everything,” remembers Katrina. “I’d wake up, look at the poster, and just want to go and be like her. So when you’ve kind of achieved that... that’s crazy.”
It was at her high school, Howick College, where Katrina was gifted her nickname, Pole, which has stuck so well that more people now call her by the moniker. If you’ve ever been confused as to why the word “Pole” is always shouted on court during a Silver Ferns game, you now have your answer!
While its meaning is pretty self-explanatory – she’s 1.86m tall – Katrina says its origin was very random.
“I was in third form and I was walking towards the canteen – typical, always going for food – when one of my mates in the A-grade netball team just said, ‘Hey, Pole.’ And that was it – I’ve been Pole since then. I like it – it gives you another identity. No-one calls me Katrina!”
Now she’s only the 26th woman to be awarded the Silver Ferns captaincy and she’s relishing the challenge.
“It doesn’t get much better than this, does it?” she says. “I’ve been the captain of the Pulse for a few years now, which I love, but this is different. It makes you put a whole different expectation on yourself – the way you lead in public, the way you play. You’re not just playing for you, but for your country. And you’re leading them.”
But Katrina says she’s always marched to the beat of her own drum and is definitely not afraid to show off a little personality.
It was Katrina who initially earned the ire of organisers at the inaugural Fast5 netball tournament in 2012 when she decided to pull on a sponsor’s mascot costume and run out on court.
“When they understood we were just having fun and when the crowd got involved, it was all good,” Katrina grins.
“That’s why we love Fast5 – it’s about letting loose with the game we love. To be honest, sometimes our warm-up is just us figuring out what dance to do when we run out.”
Katrina also dared to be different at last year’s inaugural Netball Awards, where unlike the other players, she eschewed a gown, preferring a skater dress and baseball cap from Kiwi label World.
“I just like having a bit of humour here and there, you know?” she says with a shrug. “You don’t want to lose yourself just because of what you’re doing. But the way I lead won’t change. It’s just the way I am and who I am. I’d rather lead by example than people hear my voice too much.”
Her sense of humour – a little dry and sarcastic, but always the first to laugh at a joke, even a terrible one – is a shared family trait, Katrina nods. She’s one of five siblings, and is particularly close to her brother Lance and sister Natalie, as well as dad John, mum Mary and stepdad Geoff.
“When I called my dad to tell him I was captain, he shed a tear,” tells Katrina. “But he was always going to do that! And Mum didn’t know what to say – she was speechless. I think it took a day to sink in. Natalie put up a cool post on Facebook – she wrote, ‘Really proud of my little sister, when two girls have a dream and one makes it a reality.’”
It’s her family’s opinion that she truly values most and while Katrina knew that not everyone would accept the decision to make her captain – “You’re never going to please everyone”– her family’s support means everything, as does making sure she takes time for herself away from the pressures of competitive sport.Trying new things is second nature to Katrina, even if a lot of the time they don’t work out. Gesturing around her living room – which is dominated by a huge couch she bought so she could lie down without her feet hanging off the end – she points to a slightly forlorn-looking guitar propped up in a corner, then towards the garage, where she’s stored her surfboard.
“I give things a go,” she nods. “Yup, there’s the guitar – I wasn’t very good – and the board’s in there... I tried that too.”
Thankfully, her adopted city of Wellington is great for new activities, though Katrina says her favourite wind-down pastime is trying to keep up with the capital’s cafe culture.
“Weekend breakfasts are my thing,” she grins. “Thankfully, the coffee here is fantastic! But I do really like my own space and my own time – I like going for walks where I can just cruise around a lot.”
Time to relax and reflect is all the more important now as she embarks on the biggest challenge of her captaincy so far – leading the team into this month’s Constellation Cup against old foes Australia.
Katrina says she wants to nurture the slew of young talent the side has and she admits watching the newbies debut brings her own netball journey full circle.
“When you play your first game for the Ferns and you hear the national anthem, it’s a really emotional time, but it’s a bit of a blur – you’re just thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, I’m here.’ So when I heard it for the first time as captain, I just really embraced it and took it for what it was. But it was still very emotional.”
With the captaincy ticked off the list, Katrina says there’s just one more thing left to achieve – that elusive World Cup victory.
“I want that so bad,” she grins. “This year has been the changing of the guard, but we’ve got a great mix now and a couple of years to cement that. So I’m excited!”