Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Suzanne McFadden

Mum's memory lives on with Steel rookie

Ivari Christie (with ball) made an impact in her brief debut appearance in the Steel dress last season, stealing two intercepts from a strong Tactix midcourt. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography.

Losing her mum at an early age, Ivari Christie found strength in netball. The explosive teen midcourter has now burst into the Southern Steel, with help from a couple of Silver Ferns legends, Suzanne McFadden writes.

It was the biggest moment in Ivari Christie’s netball career; just 18 years old and about to take the court for the Southern Steel for the first time.

As she stood on the sideline waiting for the umpire’s signal to enter the ANZ Premiership game in the third quarter against the Tactix last May, she was wracked with nerves. A training partner for the Steel in her first year out of Hamilton Girls’ High School, Christie not only carried the weight of expectation, but also a heavy heart.

It was the third anniversary of the death of her mum, Sheryl. She was Christie’s biggest supporter, who’d introduced her to netball, and rarely missed a training or a game her daughter played in.

Somehow, Christie managed to banish all that pressure and grief as she ran on in the centre bib.

“I have no idea how I did it,” she says, perched on the edge of a bed in her Invercargill hotel room.

“Though I’m usually pretty good at pushing aside all the outside pressures and just doing it. Being in the moment. When I go on court, all my other thoughts disappear."

And while she was on court for her 11-minute stint, she made quite an impression – taking two crucial intercepts.

“I don’t know where they came from,” she laughs. “Once I ran on and had the ball in my hands, the adrenalin hit. It was better than I was expecting it to be, that’s for sure.”

Ivari Christie has ambitions to become a Silver Fern and play netball overseas. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography. 

Of course, Christie knows her mum would have been proud - especially of her daughter leaping at opportunities, leaving Hamilton for Invercargill to take up the training partner role, and stepping into the breach when the Steel side were hit hard by Covid.

“I’d been on the bench for the Steel once before that. It was coming up to Mum’s anniversary and I was thinking of things to do," Christie says. "The game had been postponed [to the day of the anniversary] and I got the call to say I was in the team… It was incredibly special.”

None of Christie’s siblings (she has 10 – evenly split between New Zealand and England) were able to get to the game to watch her debut. “It was all very last minute… but my family up north all watched it on a laptop. They were really proud,” says Christie, who's of Dutch, Kiwi and Papuan descent.

Now she's getting her head around being called into the Steel line-up – this time permanently - for this season’s ANZ Premiership, which starts in a month's time. “It’s still a bit surreal,” she says.

Dynamic, hard working and versatile, able to play all three midcourt positions, Christie has been promoted to replace Silver Ferns midcourter Shannon Saunders, who’s expecting her first child.

Steel coach Reinga Bloxham describes Christie as having huge potential, raw and explosive. “No matter what we threw at her [last season] she never backed down,” she told Stuff.

Christie tries not to think she’s stepping into the shoes of Saunders, who’s amassed more than 150 games for the Steel – and Bloxham doesn’t want her to assume that role, either.

But Saunders has been a “massive help” for Christie, especially returning to the wing attack position.

“At high school, I played goal attack because we didn’t have any in our team,” Christie says. “But now I’m understanding the lines of wing attack again, I’m really enjoying it. Shannon is super clear, tells you what to do, but not in a mean way.”

She also has the chance to learn from two other Silver Ferns midcourters, Kate Heffernan and Sam Winders, who’s joined the Steel this season.

Ivari Christie played at wing defence for the Steel's win over the Magic last May. Photo: Michael Bradley Photography. 

Growing up in Thames, Auckland and Hamilton, Christie’s midcourt heroes were Silver Ferns legend Laura Langman and England’s perennial star Serena Guthrie (who shares a similar hairstyle with Christie).

“I loved their fitness, their hustle, the way they went for everything and kept going and going,” Christie says. Those are strengths Christie is trying to instill in her own game.

Fitness has put Christie on a steep learning curve. “I haven’t been pushed consistently in my fitness before. At school and reps I'd only have a solid two months of it. But I’m actually really enjoying the fitness now,” she says.

She’s had help in that area from former Silver Fern centurion, Leana de Bruin, who has been her mentor for three years. Christie was paired up with de Bruin as a Tania Dalton Foundation scholarship recipient back in 2020.

“Leana is very strong on fitness. She believes in always working, always hustling,” Christie says.

De Bruin, who had two stints with the Steel in her long career, proved that last season when at 44 she played a handful of games for the Magic in the premiership, filling in for players with Covid.

She has no doubt that Christie, who started playing netball at the age of six after watching her mum play, has both the talent and the right mindset to be a great netballer.

“What really struck me about her straight away was a willingness to do whatever it takes to do things better. Her work ethic, the questions she asked me, man she’s onto it,” de Bruin says of Christie.

“I wanted to her understand that if you’re fit it is easier to make decisions. You don’t have to worry about having to breathe.”

De Bruin has also been impressed with Christie’s ability to deal with tragedy at such a young age.

“Her mum is more like her inspiration; she doesn’t just feeling sorry for herself,” she says. “She’s done an incredible job of turning her life story around and wanting to make her mum proud.

“And she’s in a really good place with the Steel; it’s such a safe and supportive environment.”

Christie was just 15 when she lost her mum to cancer in 2019.

“It hit me really hard, more than I realised,” Christie says. “She was diagnosed in March and died about a year and two months later. It was pretty quick.

“I can’t really remember much from that time, but I kept playing netball. I thought of moving to Auckland, and having a break from playing, but we had a new head of netball coming to the school. I thought, ‘We have a strong team this year so I think I’ll stick it out’. It’s probably the best decision I ever made’.”

Kim Howard, who'd worked with Dame Noeline Taurua at Sunshine Coast Lightning, became the director of netball at Hamilton Girls High and last season coached the team to their first ever victory at the New Zealand secondary school netball championships.

Although Christie couldn’t play at that tournament in her last two years at school, cancelled by the pandemic, she made the New Zealand Secondary Schools team in 2020 and 2021. In her final year she won the the Sheryl Davies Memorial Trophy for most outstanding netball player at Hamilton Girls. A trophy named after her mum.

Howard is friends with Bloxham and recommended Christie as a future midcourt star. Christie didn’t think twice about moving to Invercargill last year as one of the Steel’s three training partners - giving her access to work and learn alongside the premiership stars.

Ivari Christie visiting a school for the Pass It Forward programme through the Tania Dalton Foundation. Photo: TDF.

This year, Christie has moved to Dunedin, close to her sister and two nieces. She lives with her mum’s best friend and her daughter, who's also Christie’s best mate. She's thinking about studying next semester.

Three days a week she does fitness weights and conditioning with the three other Steel players who live in Dunedin, and also does “overnighters” in Invercargill to train with the rest of the squad.

She says she feels more confident this year, having built a relationship with her team-mates off the court, translating into better connections on court. “I’m still learning off the girls,” she says. “There’s still a bit to wrap my head around.

“This year I’ve got a better routine. Last year my sleep schedule was out – I’d come home almost every day and have a nap because I wasn’t used to training that hard.”

Her three-year scholarship with the Tania Dalton Foundation (created to honour another former Steel star) has given her two notebooks full of advice and tips gleaned at regular workshops with other promising female athletes.

“I have so many things I can refer back to,” she says. “I really enjoyed the mental side, like how to deal with pressure. It taught me how to reset, and leave everything at the door.”

Christie had thought of getting a photo of her mum to put on her Steel gear bag this season, but she’s “superstitious about superstitions”. She also knows Mum will be with her in spirit in her first ANZ Premiership season.

* The Southern Steel host the NSW Swifts and reigning ANZ Premiership champions the Pulse in pre-season games this weekend – playing the Swifts in Invercargill on Sunday, and the Pulse on Tuesday.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.