SINGAPORE - She is one of the biggest names in netball, mixing elegance and power with an easy grace.
New Zealand's goal attack Maria Tutaia was in the Silver Ferns team that lost the world crown to arch-rivals Australia in a thrilling final in 2011 in Singapore.
Netball is the No. 1 sport among females here, and after her coaching clinic with girls from schools like Ahmad Ibrahim and Woodlands Secondary at the OCBC Arena yesterday, Tutaia was pleasantly surprised by the quality on show.
"The talent here is just insane, really. I'd actually like to take some of them home and play for my team," she grinned.
"I understand that a lot has been done by Singapore's netball officials like coach Ruth Aitken, and the progress over the last few years is really showing."
Singapore are the reigning Asian champions and are about to host the 2014 Nations Cup at the OCBC Arena at the Sports Hub from Dec 7 to 13.
In last year's edition Nations Cup, the hosts brushed aside the likes of Ireland and the United States, before falling to Uganda in the final.
Tutaia believes it is only a matter of time before Asian netball powerhouses like Singapore become contenders on the international stage.
The 27-year-old feels that size and height are no longer the only weapons required to succeed in the sport, even if she is 1.88m tall.
"We can already see the trends changing now. Look at teams like Jamaica and Singapore, where the players are not very tall, but can pass, catch and shoot as well as any other six-footer," she said.
"The game is evolving, and I think that players from Asia are beginning to use their smaller frame to their advantage. Some even have better ball-playing skills to offset their lack of height.
"So it's not the be-all and end-all of netball. It's all about skill, mentality, quickness and how smart you play, and Asia are developing really quickly in that respect."
Tutaia's dream is for netball to feature in the Olympics.
Supporters have raised a loud racket for squash for some time now in a bid to get it into the Olympics, and it is getting even louder.
Netball has hardly made a similar sort of pitch, and Tutaia, a two-time Commonwealth Games champion (2006, 2010) is adamant that should change.
"Netball may not have the global profile that many other sports enjoy, but it's a sport that is showing visible signs of growth," she said.
"England, South Africa and Asia nations are all getting into it, collectively lifting the sport's profile. It's already in the Commonwealth Games, so why not the Olympics?"
This article was first published on December 5, 2014.
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