Courtney Elliott has grown accustomed to a life full of unexpected change. “I feel like I should be prepared … once I’ve solidified my decision on what I want to do, something else will come”, she says, streaming in from her brand new home in Wellington.
In November of 2021, the talented 23 year old defender told herself that she was ready to settle down in Queensland, Australia, where she had been living for a year and playing netball in a semi-professional league. She had secured a new job in hospitality and was looking forward to captaining her netball side, the Northern Mendi Rays.
Then came the call she never expected. New Central Pulse recruit Temalisi Fakahokotau had announced that she was leaving the side to take a break from netball and there was a space available for 2022. The opportunity to return to professional netball and her home country awaited her. Did she want to take it?
Elliott’s first reaction was shock. For many reasons, one being that it was none other than her own mother who rang to break the news. The Pulse had emailed her initially. Elliott’s still not quite sure why. “I think that was the email they had when I was younger going through grades … (Mum) said guess what look at this, then started reading it to me. I thought, oh random, out of everyone why did you get it?”
Then came the surprise at the offer itself. “Being in a different country I didn’t think I was really being thought about … so yeah I was just very surprised, very shocked but also very excited.” Elliott thought, “I’ll take this as my Christmas present, sure!”
The excitement then gave way to something of a “dilemma” when she started thinking about the impact it would have on her Northern Mendi Rays side and the life she was building in Australia. To say she looked up to her coach at the Rays, Australian legend Vicki Wilson, would be an understatement. Elliott describes Wilson as, “Awesome … she’s got so much knowledge as well, she just pulls things out of her ear really … I think how do you just come up with this stuff really?”
But Wilson’s message, when her captain told her about the Pulse’s offer, was a simple one. “She said yeah okay, bye, you’re going.”
So Elliott turned around, at speed, and set up her new life again.
Growing up and playing in the ANZ Premiership was not an obvious dream for the girl from the Waikato. She started playing netball at age seven, simply because, “All my friends were pretty much … you know you just want to play sport and spend time with your friends, spend more time with them because school’s not enough.” She watched professional netball “a little bit” growing up and looked up to Laura Langman and Casey Kopua, mainly because, “They were from the Waikato as well and played for Magic so that was cool and I did often see them around just randomly”.
Elliott flourished at her chosen sport. She was named New Zealand Secondary School Player of the Year in 2016 and then in 2018 got the call up every young netballer dreams up: to play in the ANZ Premiership for the Southern Steel. In just her first season, she was named in the Silver Ferns Development Squad.
However, after two years of playing for the Steel, she was suddenly forced into her first life change. The Steel didn’t offer her a contract for a third year. Elliott’s response to this was a pragmatic one. She simply threw herself into what was next: a return home to the Waikato and back to study. Elliott describes herself as being on a ”long, long, long study trail”, having spent “close to five years” in total working towards a Bachelor of Management and Accounting.
Then along came a last minute netball opportunity, in the form of an offer from the Mystics to be a training partner for the 2020 season. This then turned into a replacement player contract when Michaela Sokolich-Beatson was injured. Traditionally a goal keeper, Elliott added the goal defence and wing defence roles to her skillset that season, a change she welcomed with open arms. But once again at the end of that season, a further contract did not come her way.
Elliott admits allowing herself to feel “a bit disappointed” this time around. “I did quite enjoy that season and I did feel good about it. I felt like I was a lot fitter than I had been in previous years and I felt good by the end of it.” But she’s cautious to quickly add, “I don’t have any animosity towards them, I still talk to them all … sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles”.
It was in fact her Mystics coach Helene Wilson who pointed her in the direction of the opportunity in Queensland. As was now becoming typical for Elliott, she had already made the decision by then to return home and continue her study once again. But the opportunity seemed too good to pass up. Or, in her words, “It was me procrastinating. I don’t really want to study”!
Once there, she found an incredibly supportive environment, including assistance with finding a place to stay, a job and transport. For her game, she’s pleased to have had exposure to a more “man on” defensive style and to being forced into a “lot of movement”.
She has no regrets though about her decision to move back to New Zealand and is really enjoying playing for the Pulse team, who are enjoying having her, too. Co-captain Kelly Jury said, “We’re really fortunate that she was able to come in at late notice and just fill that slot … she’s just slotted into the team really well and I can’t wait to see what she can put out there”.
As a late entry, Elliott has of course missed out on some of the key pre-season experiences which help a team to connect. Jury describes a particularly gruelling pre-season boot camp run by the New Zealand Police, where the team were required to carry sandbags up and down a beach for three hours, followed by a surprise eleven kilometre walk carrying water containers. It sounds like an experience you wouldn’t be sad to miss, but Jury adds that this “helped grow us as a team pretty quickly or sped that process up”.
However, Elliott seems unfazed by her late entrance and is embracing the differences in her new environment. “There’s been a quite a lot of new stuff that … I haven’t experienced in other teams that I’ve been a part of.”
For example, Elliott likes that the Pulse is, “Actually quite a young side, so the average age is 21. When we play warmup games and stuff I’m actually on the oldies team! I swear I’m in the wrong team”. Jury points this out too, noting that “I think the amount of Tiktoks shows how young the team is”!
The highlight of being in the Pulse for Elliott so far has been “the girls”. Jury agrees with this, describing the side as having, “Really clicked … we spend a lot of time with each other off court by choice which is actually really cool and a pretty special thing, it doesn’t happen in all teams”.
When Elliott does finally take the Court for the Pulse, she expects that a decent contingent of her family will be there too (Covid permitting). She anticipates that they will be “quite the fans, dressing up in matching coloured t shirts and painting their nails and stuff like that”. Her mother will “probably be very loud”.
Off the netball court, Elliott has a goal to become a chartered accountant. “Whether that comes through or I change my mind what I want to do will all depend in time. I would kind of like to move overseas and do a bit of travel with my degree and stuff.”
For now, however, she’s focussing on being a professional netballer once more and riding a high in her journey full of highs and lows to date. And you can’t help but want to see this clearly resilient, humble and hard working woman succeed.