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Jenny-May Coffin's netballer niece

Northern Mystics player Katherine has a fan in former Silver Fern Jenny-May Coffin.

By Aroha Awarau
Rising netball star Katherine Coffin doesn't need to look very far for inspiration. As a child, she spent many years supporting and watching her famous auntie, former Silver Fern and popular broadcaster Jenny-May Coffin, dominating the court. Now it's Katherine's turn to shine, and Jenny-May is ecstatic that there's another Coffin making her mark.
"I've always understood that playing netball was a big part of what our auntie did," Katherine says. "That's why I'm extremely proud of her."
This year, Katherine (24), whose father David is Jenny-May's older brother, was selected for the Northern Mystics, the Auckland-based team competing in the ANZ Championships. The defender has helped the Mystics become the top Kiwi team during this year's competition and plays alongside seasoned netballers Maria Tutaia, Laura Langman and Catherine Latu.
Left: Jenny-May played for the Mystics in 2010. Right: A delighted Katherine was called up to the squad last year.
Jenny-May (41), a former Silver Fern vice captain who retired from international netball in 2002, is not only Katherine's confidante – the pair also live together. Katherine made the move from Hamilton to Auckland in December when she joined the netball franchise.
"We're more like flatmates than auntie and niece," tells Jenny-May. "We get home and chill. It's really cosy. Like most flatmates, we go out and party. But that's when I start feeling like I'm the old lady my niece hangs out with!"
The pair have always been close. Katherine says when she was naughty as a child, her parents would send her to Jenny-May's, thinking it was a punishment.
"They thought she was grumpy! But she used to buy me kebabs and let me play on the computer all night," Katherine tells. "Secretly I loved it."
The tight pair grew even closer when Katherine's whole family – her parents and her two siblings – shifted to Perth. Katherine, then 17, opted to stay in New Zealand. She's very close to her grandparents and didn't want to leave them. "That's when Jenny-May became more than an auntie," Katherine explains. "She was like my mother."
As she grew, Katherine proved she had inherited her auntie's talent on the netball court, making various age-level national teams. Last year, she became a development player for Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic, before being asked to join the Mystics this year. It's a special achievement for Katherine, after many years of being compared to Jenny-May.
"When I was 10 years old, I didn't make a team and someone told me it was because I couldn't play as well as my auntie. That's hard to hear when you're just a kid," Katherine confides.
In fact, it was unfair comparisons like this that led Jenny-May to step back from Katherine's games.
"I've got so much knowledge I want to give her," Jenny-May explains. "Even now, I have to hold it back until she asks for my help. It's her career. If she wants to talk about something, then she'll ask. I don't like pushing anything on her."
Jenny-May knows that playing top-level sport comes with many sacrifices, and hopes Katherine will learn from her own mistakes.
"I've been there and done that. I know the hurt that can come from playing netball, like the pressure to win and how it feels when you don't make a team. In some ways, I feel like a parent – very protective. But I know, as an auntie, I just need to be here for her when she needs someone to pick her up."
Although following her famous auntie onto the court hasn't always been easy, Katherine appreciates Jenny-May's advice. "I feel I can ask her about anything," she says.
Katherine says her aunt is a great role model and that she's constantly asking her for advice on and off the court. Apart from being a popular Silver Fern and having played 26 games for New Zealand, Jenny-May enjoyed a career as a police officer. She later went back to school to learn Maori and is currently a sports reporter on One News.
"I trust her immensely and feel I can ask her about anything," says Katherine. "She's straight up with her answers and that's what I love about her."
Despite their age difference, the pair once played against each other during a club game and both say it was amusing.
"I thought, being the older and wiser one, that I'd have the upper hand," laughs Jenny-May. "But she wasn't giving me an inch. She outplayed me that day."
"We hammered them," Katherine adds proudly.
The younger Coffin hopes to make the Silver Ferns squad one day, which would make Jenny-May and their family even more proud of her. But Jenny-May says that she admires her niece most for what she has become outside of the sport.
"She's kind, caring and very thoughtful. She's still finding her place on this earth, but I feel she's coming closer to understanding where that is."
Katherine smiles at her aunt. "The biggest thing she has taught me is to take every opportunity that comes my way," she says. "I've got many other aunties who I love, but it's Jenny-May who I turn to when things are tough."

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