GROWING up in a netball family, umpire Kristie Simpson never expected she would be the one to make a mark in the sport.
But, last month, the Southland woman became New Zealand’s most capped national league umpire.
At 36, she has umpired a record 120 national league matches in 12 seasons.
She was not counting but she was given the heads-up at the start of the season that she could potentially reach the milestone.
‘‘It took a bit longer than we expected because we had a couple of games cancelled because of Covid and then I got Covid, but anyway it is pretty surreal to be fair.
‘‘It is not an achievement you kind of set out necessarily. It is a combination of hard work, a lot of time and energy — and, of course, a bit of luck… I’m surprised and honoured at the same time.’’
Simpson said she grew up around netball as her mother played and coached the sport, so it was a natural pathway for her and her siblings to follow.
However, despite loving the game, she believed her physique impacted her course.
‘‘I am not a very big in stature and I was never big enough to go any further than playing club netball, but I still loved to be part of that. So I think that I also had a knack for umpiring and then one thing led to another.’’
Her career has taken her to many places including Australia, Europe and the Pacific Islands but there were two games which stood out for her.
The first happened in 2017 after a van carrying six Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel players was hit by a car in Christchurch.
Emotions were high as some of their best players were injured but they scrambled to put a team together which got the victory in the end.
‘‘Oh my goodness — it was an incredibly emotional game. We all had to hold our emotions tight and I had to make sure I was composed in the final moments of the game. It was one of those days that you will never forget.’’
The other special memory was when the ANZ Premiership returned after Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020.
‘‘Coming after that, and seeing that everyone in New Zealand worked really hard… that was pretty cool. It was a feeling of ‘we made it’.’’
For the past 12 years, Simpson has been juggling her umpiring role with her rural life in Tokanui where she manages a sheep and beef farm with her family.
She said good time management and the support of her family were paramount for her to be able to carry out both her roles.
When asked which was more challenging to handle, she joked that it was probably the players on the court.
‘‘They are so much better than my stock.’’
Simpson said everything came down to her passion for the sport and the fulfilling feeling of being part of the game.
After each season she re-assessed her situation, but said she had no plans to retire.
‘‘As long as I am enjoying it, it is fun and I am doing a good job — yeah… I will probably keep going.’’