In her first season as captain of the ANZ Premiership, Ameliaranne Ekenasio was nervous about filling the shoes of the legendary Magic captains for her. But, as Merryn Anderson writes, the silent leader has the full respect of the party that voted for her.
When the Waikato Bay of Plenty Magic made history by winning the ANZ Championship in 2012, Ameliaranne Ekenasio watched in awe and a little fear.
Little did the 21-year-old know she would one day carry on a powerful legacy of Magic leaders.
At the time, she was Ameliaranne Wells, the young shooter playing in her sophomore year with the Queensland Firebirds – representing the state where she grew up in the trans-Tasman league. Eleven years later, the Australian-born shooter is the proud captain of the Magic in the ANZ Premiership.
Ekenasio says the Magic were a feared team in the days of the ANZ Championship, where they were the only Kiwi team to win in the league’s nine seasons.
“I think it’s because they were so strong in the way they act,” she says.
Today, Ekenasio is the 10th captain of the Magic, continuing the legacy of some of the game’s true legends, such as Amigene Metcalfe (Magic’s first captain in 1999, who went on to coach the franchise), Jenny-May Coffin, Joline Johansson ( no Henry ), Irene van Dyk, Laura Langman, Casey Kopua and Leana de Bruin.
Magic stalwart Sam Winders led the squad for the past three seasons before leaving for the Southern Steel, and Ekenasio took over the reins this year in her second season with the team.
“It was definitely a challenging decision – one, because I think very highly of Sammy as captain, so I knew there were really big shoes to fill,” she says, after moving north from the Pulse for the 2022 season.
“Not only that, when you look at the people who have been Magic captains before, you have people like Laura Langman and Casey Kopua, so it feels like you’re stepping into a big role.
“I hoped I would be the right person, knowing there are big shoes to fill. But at the end of the day I am very proud to have been chosen as captain, to know that the team was behind me.”
Having never captained a home team before, Ekenasio was chosen to captain the Pulse in 2021 before missing the season – taking time off for her mental health and subsequently becoming pregnant with her second child, daughter Luna.
She has been captain of the Silver Ferns on and off since 2020, chosen by her peers for the role. Her calm and friendly nature may seem like a contrast to other captains you see in the sport, who are often heard raising their voices to shake up a team, but her gentle passion and support for her team is evident.
Mary-Jane Araroa took over as coach of the Magic last season and introduced aspects of tikanga Māori into the team culture.
“It feels like it’s very natural too,” says Ekenasio, who is of Ngāti Kahu and Ngāpuhi descent.
“Information is really shared in the hope that you learn, so I came in and I learned so much in that regard. I really like that side of it – it’s not that we absolutely live by tikanga, but it’s definitely present in a lot of what we do.
Most of the team has played several seasons with the Magic, so Ekenasio is one of the newer faces.
“When you get into the Magic, you feel like you’re coming into a really proud franchise. They’re really proud of where they’ve been in the past. They know everyone who’s been through it,” she says.
“The mana behind the magic is always something we talk about and the people who have come before us. We really need to work on making sure we wear the dress with pride and do it justice.”
The Magic have won two of their five matches so far and earned a bonus point in one of their losses to finish fifth on the table. But the table is tight, with only one win between second and fifth place.
“We actually feel like we’re in a much better place than last year,” says Ekenasio. The Magic finished fifth with four wins last season; their four bonus points are the only thing that lift them from the bottom of the table.
“We really enjoyed working on our game and figuring out what we want to be known for, and how we want each game to emerge. So that was exciting, but it also has its challenges,” she says.
“I really thought when we’re in games, we’re really in games, but we’ve also had some big outbursts – which have also been hard to deal with as a team and really made us show up really hungry the following week at training.
This is Ekenasio’s second ANZ Premiership season as a mother of two – her son, Ocean, is five years old and Luna is 17 months.
“Being away from my babies and from my family is definitely the hardest thing about it,” says Ekenasio, who is open about the struggle to be a mother and athlete.
“It’s very hard and my heart gets very sad and I miss my babies. But at the same time, sometimes I get a few days where I can be a full-time athlete and do everything anyone can do without kids,” she says.
“I can do all my recovery well and I can sleep really well and all my focus is just me as an athlete for those few days.”
Fortunately, Ekenasio, who travels every week from her home in Wellington, has her Magic family to lean on when she’s gone, including former players.
“When we played in Hamilton, we had Casey and Leana on the field and we saw them all. It was just this real lift in the team, knowing they were there,” she says.
“To have them there forces you even further to make sure you represent the franchise well. And when you wear the dress, you wear it with immense pride… it also represents them, so you don’t want to disappoint them.”
Ekenasio emphasizes that it’s not necessarily about winning games.
“That’s a really big learning curve for us — and for me, too,” she says. “Just because we lose doesn’t mean we’ve lost our mana, it’s more how we do it and how we behave.”
Being a name on a long list of legends is not phased for Ekenasio.
“When I thought about the legacy for me as a captain, I never really think about it,” she says. “It’s more what I do will leave a legacy and what I am will hopefully be remembered more.”
*Heritage Round kicks off Saturday at 7pm with the Steel taking on the Mystics (Sky Sport 3). The Magic will play the Pulse on Sunday at 2pm, followed by the Stars vs Tactix at 4pm (both Sky Sport 3). The round ends on Monday when the Pulse plays against the Mystics at 7:30 PM (Sky Sport 1).