More than just a game for ANZ Premiership import Joyce Mvula
Being good at netball has been life changing for the ANZ Premiership’s latest import player Joyce Mvula.
The Malawi international, who is signed to the Pulse for 2023, has done things she never thought possible when growing up in one of the poorest countries in the world.
And the thought of playing for the defending champions in the New Zealand domestic league is surreal for the 28-year-old shooter.
“That’s why sometimes I ask myself ‘is this really happening?’ It shocks me, it’s a big thing I’ve been dreaming – I prayed for it and it’s happening,” Mvula said.
Mvula, who is the third youngest of seven girls and one boy, didn’t start playing netball until she was 13.
Fortuitously her family lived in close proximity to the netball court in the town she grew up in.
“The court was 10 metres from my house so there was an adult team training there, a police team, because my Dad used to be a police officer.
“We used to go there as ball girls, they used to lend us a ball after training so we’re doing shooting, playing with the ball. We had that advantage that we had a big team there so they also lent us some balls to our school.
“That was just lucky for me because in the villages they don’t have balls,” Mvula said.
It’s not uncommon in Malawi for players to make their own netballs out of plastic bags, which Mvula sometimes played with as well when she was young.
Being so close to the court also meant she was able to get noticed, which would have been much harder in a small village.
The Pulse signed the experienced international shooter after losing tall target Aliyah Dunn, who’s gone to the Tactix.
Mvula spent six seasons with the Manchester Thunder in the UK Super League, while also playing a pivotal role in the team’s unbeaten run to the title last year.
The 1.85m shooter arrived in Wellington in the middle of December, just nine days after getting married in Malawi.
She won’t see her husband Orton again until June, once the season is over.
Mvula has sacrificed a lot to ply her trade overseas.
She also has a 7 year old son – Sangwani, who she won’t see again either until she’s back in Malawi, where her family take care of him when she’s not there.
“I think it’s a thing you cannot get used to, it’s very hard but we have to manage because at the end of the day I need to work for things to be better for them, we don’t have an option.”
Her international team-mate Mwai Kumwenda blazed a trail when she became the first Malawian to play in New Zealand’s top domestic league.
Kumwenda, 33, played for the Tactix between 2014 and 2016 before the Melbourne Vixens chased her signature in the Australian league.
Mvula remembered when Kumwenda got her big break in New Zealand.
“I admired her because it was a dream for every girl to have that opportunity and seeing her coming here I was like ‘oh I think it’s possible’ so that’s when I started working hard, I wanted to be like her. She’s a role model for every girl.”
Sadly, Mvula doesn’t think netball is getting stronger in Malawi, where no one gets paid to play.
“I think now it’s getting weaker, I think we need more development. We need to develop players because we don’t have many options.”
July’s World Cup is being hosted by South Africa, the first time the tournament will be held on the African continent.
“I think that will help, people will see great netball and be inspired and I think companies might come forward. Right now there’s not enough sponsorship.”
She tries to have a positive impact on the next generation by running netball camps in Malawi in her off season.
Playing for Malawi means she sometimes gets recognised on the street but she’s not someone who likes the spotlight.
Mvula said she’s just grateful for what netball has given her.
“When I was at school I had opportunities for scholarships because of netball, and going abroad is also an opportunity. Because of netball I’ve never had to write a CV to ask for a job in my life.”
Mvula came face to face with her future Pulse team-mate Kelly Jury for the first time during last year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
When Malawi met the Silver Ferns in pool play, Mvula replaced Kumwenda late in the game after defender Jury got the better of her.
“We were like ‘I think we’re team-mates – let’s be nice’,” Mvula laughs.
Although Mvula learnt English at high school, she found the language difficult when she arrived in the UK for her first season.
After six years with the Manchester Thunder, making the move to the Pulse is another big challenge for her.
“This is only my second team since being professional …it’s a big step, different defenders, different training. Physically the conditioning is a challenge but I’m getting there.”
Mvula, who is sharing a flat with new Pulse recruit Fa’amu Ioane, said the Pulse players were very encouraging.
“I know they know that settling is hard but at least with them the laughs and jokes we have every day, the love they show me I think it’s helping me settle.”
Armed with a unique style, the athletic shooter will combine with Pulse goal attack Tiana Metuarau and the pair have the makings of a dynamic shooting partnership.
Her goal this year is simple.
“To improve my game …I’m still learning, it’s my time to learn more.”
The ANZ Premiership starts on the 4th March.
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