When it comes to keeping the proverbial ball in the air, local Absa-NMMU netball star Zanele Mdodana understands the rules of the game better than most.

Juggling a full-time job, motherhood and being one of the country’s most promising netball players is no easy balancing act, but the 24-year-old knows that nothing is achieved without setting a goal and putting in loads of good old elbow grease in achieving it.

At the age of 11, this athletic beauty literally stood head and shoulders above the rest of her peers at Blue Water Bay Primary and there was no chance that she could be overlooked by the netball coach (Mrs Zeelie), who encouraged the outgoing pre-teen to take up the sport.

“Back then, I didn’t even know that netball existed. My first match was a disaster!” she remembers the fateful day. “I was the shooter and I missed every single shot at goal!”

With such a precarious start to her on-court career, Zanele – who eventually topped out at just under six feet – wanted to quit the game, but Mrs Zeelie would hear nothing of it and took the star-to-be under her wing.

Zeelie’s coaching soon paid dividends and she was picked for the Eastern Province team in her age group. Thereafter she made the provincial cut for the rest of her primary and high school (Victoria Park) careers.

This was merely the beginning of her rise to the top of the netball echelons. Her hard work and commitment paid off in 2005 when se was selected for the Protea team for the first time.

After her recent re-selection for a tri-nations tournament (in South Africa next month), the country’s premier wing attack says she is “extremely excited” about the challenge ahead.

“We will be playing against Malawi and Barbados (note to editor: other sources say Malawi and Trinidad & Tobago) and it should be a good match-up as both teams have similar rankings to us.”

Tough opposition motivates her even more, says Zanele, a sports administrator at the Eastern Cape Academy of Sport. “We must make use of our home ground advantage and our aim will definitely be to win.”

In an extraordinary twist, her inclusion in the country’s top team comes a mere seven months after the birth of her first child – a boy named Zukolwakhe.

Zanele says despite her hectic schedule, she loves being a mother. “My parents are very supportive; they provide me with a wonderful support structure whenever I need to train or travel.”

She has a natural talent for ball sports and confesses to a deep love for tennis. “I was quite a good tennis player, but was awarded a scholarship for netball, so I had to choose.”

It is no doubt a choice the netball fraternity is eternally grateful for, but the benefits have been mutual.

“I am very thankful for the opportunities netball has given me. It has opened many doors, including receiving a bursary to study at NMMU (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University).

One of her dreams has always been to play tennis at Wimbledon. “Perhaps it’s not too late,” she says after considering the idea for a second.

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Coetzee Gouws
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