After successfully guiding Waikato Bay of Plenty to the inaugural national under-23 title, Mary-Jane Araroa has been reappointed head coach for 2014.

 The staging of the first national under-23 tournament last year proved an instant success and the Whakatane-based Araroa sees the appointment as another step in her long and colourful coaching career.

``I am very pleased to be reappointed coach of the Waikato Bay of Plenty under-23 Zone team because the profile of this age-group has lifted significantly since the staging of the first championship in July and a lot of coaches out there see it as a stepping stone to the ANZ Championship top job,’’ she said.

``I thought it was a fantastic competition and will serve that age group well.’’

The decision to resort to an under-23 grade by Netball New Zealand was an attempt to capture and cover a gap that had been identified between under-21 and ANZ Championship level. It was felt a lot of players aged in the 21 to 23 age bracket weren’t quite up to playing at ANZ Championship level but were too old for under-21 competition. By increasing that age group of competition at a national level, their involvement was harnessed more effectively while also providing a higher standard of competition than the previous under-21 event.

It also proved beneficial to a number of young players sitting in ANZ Championship teams who were not getting much court time, allowing them to come back into the under-23 competition and actually get a lot more playing time.

Araroa, 43, has achieved several significant milestones in her 17-year coaching career. Most recently she coached the Bay of Plenty Gold Regional team for four years at the national championships, winning promotion to Division 1 in the second year, a first for the Bay team who maintained that position for the following two years before the Zone concept was introduced.

She also coached the New Zealand Maori team for nearly 20 years and was recently made a Life Member for her contribution to Maori netball, an environment where a lot of her coaching experienced has been developed. 

Araroa coached the NZ Maori Secondary Schools team at the annual trans-Tasman international event for three years where they made the final for the first time in 2013.

The former Auckland and NorthHarbour player can thank former Silver Ferns coach Yvonne Willering for inspiring a career in coaching. Araroa played under the long-serving coach for 13 years before taking over as head coach of Northern Force in the National Bank Cup, the first coach for the franchise, when she was just 26. She also coached the North Harbour NPC team.

Araroa took a break when she had her son and then returned home to Whakatane eight years ago after spending nearly 20 years in Auckland before picking up the reins again.

``Yvonne has been quite an influence in terms of my coaching styles and philosophies where I’ve tried to concentrate on the simplicity of delivery and expectation,’’ she said.

``I was privileged to be surrounded during my playing days by quality players and coaches who had great values and ethics which rubbed off and which I have carried with me ever since. They demanded the best from you and expected it from themselves.’’

Araroa played during an unrivalled Auckland era of dominance, the experience leaving a lasting impression and fashioning a no-nonsense coach.

``My background is allowing me to bring a role which will help develop these under-23 players to be ready for that transition into the top level and ANZ Championship competition,’’ she said.

``Last year’s group of players understood the value of working hard and the rewards that can come with that.’’

Six of 11 from the successful 2013 team – Samantha Sinclair, Katherine Coffin, Jamie-Lee Price, Brooke Leaver, Nadia Loveday and Erena Mikaere – have secured ANZ Championship contracts while Kendra Falefitu has a Super League contract in the UK and Harley Smith is playing in Australia with the expectation of making a state team.

``I think the depth at under-23 level in the Waikato Bay of Plenty is pretty healthy and after last year’s success players will see the opportunities and I think more will come through,’’ Araroa said.

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