From no shoes to the big dance
The woman with arguably the greatest story in Super Netball has been handed its toughest assignment as she attempts to lead the Sunshine Coast Lightning into a fourth consecutive grand final.
Lightning goalkeeper Phumza Maweni will match up against Jhaniele Fowler in Sunday's Super Netball preliminary final, attempting to put the brakes on the West Coast Fever gun rated the world's best shooter.
It's a tough ask against the prolific Fowler, who is averaging 56 goals a game this season at 94 per cent and is the key to the Fever's dominance.
But Maweni has never taken the easy route and is looking forward to the challenge.
The South African, who grew up in a modest village in the Eastern Cape before moving to the slums of Cape Town with her father, did not own a pair of sports shoes until she was 28 and was only picked for her first representative team at the age of 29.
"Back home, we have a big family and there was only my dad working," Maweni said.
"There was not any big money, he only earnt money to buy food and support us through sickness and all the things were for the household.
"When I started (playing) proper netball - not the one I played as a youngster without shoes - the rules said you had to wear (sandshoes) but I didn't have any and then one of the white ladies (gave me some) and said she wanted to see me play because of my height.
"That was my first time wearing shoes and I felt like I had wheels. I got player of the match."
That start led to selection in the South African national team at age 29 and a stint in the England's Netball Superleague before her move to Australia and the Lightning in 2019.
"It's always a shock when I think where I'm coming from," Maweni said from training at the University of Sunshine Coast, venue for Sunday's preliminary final clash.
"My story is just a different story. I never thought I would be in Australia playing netball.
"And I never thought I would reach (these heights) because I started so late. (But) I've worked hard for this."
Maweni was particularly conscious of her height growing up but will embrace every one of her 186cm on Sunday against Fowler, the Fever's holding shooter who uses her 198cm frame as a great target for high delivery from her midcourt.
"I just love challenging everything. For me to play against Jhaniele (Fowler), it's not an easy job but we just need to encourage each other and enjoy," said Maweni, who will form a formidable circle defence with fellow South African Karla Pretorius.
"We just need to focus on our game, not on Fowler and other players. They play fast-paced netball and we need to control everything and keep the possession.
"If it's the last game, let's just go hard and play."
The Lightning reached the grand final in each of the first three seasons of Super Netball, winning the first two titles and Maweni said there was a good feeling heading into Sunday's clash despite this season's two heavy fixture losses to the Fever this season.
"We sat down (this week) and chatted about what we want and we all feel the same," she said.
"Last year was a big loss in the grand final. We had the best season and then we didn't close well.
"This year we started well but we want to finish strong. We have a chance, we just need to control the game and play our netball."
Sunshine Coast Lightning v West Coast Fever
University of Sunshine Coast
Sunday, 12pm (AEST)
Originally published as From no shoes to the big dance