THE curtain is about to come down on Wendy Frew’s time playing elite netball at ILT Stadium Southland, sorry, Wendy Frew Stadium. LOGAN SAVORY caught up with Frew for a bit of reflection.
IT’S 2002. Lesley Nicol hands a Verdon College pupil her playing bib and tells the teenager, “you’re in”.
It was the start of Wendy Frew’s 16-year and 174-game stretch playing elite netball, thrust into the limelight with the Southern Sting.
The moment was masterminded by Sting coach Robyn Broughton well before the game.
Broughton also coached Frew as part of the Verdon College school team.
The plan was to introduce the talented young Southland sportswoman, who had already impressed in softball and touch, to big-time netball in the fourth quarter of that particular game.
Broughton and the other leaders in the team had shielded Frew from the fourth-quarter plan, not wanting her to work herself up emotionally about the occasion.
“I didn’t know until about 30 seconds before I went on,” Frew recalls.
Sixteen years on from that first elite game, she will bring the curtain down on Wednesday night at ILT Stadium Southland.
The Southern Steel’s play-off game on Wednesday night will be her last elite fixture at the stadium where she has grown up.
She started as a fresh-faced schoolgirl and will finish as a mother of two.
The longevity puts her service for netball in Southland into perspective.
As far as a highlight at ILT Stadium Southland over the past 16 years?
“It’s hard because there have been so many great moments over the years. But that final win last year [against Central Pulse] to win so many games in a row was very special.
“We had been through that van crash, so to go on to do what we did [in the final] was amazing to be part of.”
To mark Wednesday night’s occasion, the Invercargill venue has been temporarily renamed in an initiative prompted by ILT Stadium Southland officials.
The stadium will be renamed Wendy Frew Stadium for the fixture.
The signage has gone up, it’s been printed on the tickets, and Sky TV will refer to the venue as Wendy Frew Stadium throughout its coverage.
It is the first time the stadium’s management has instigated such an initiative.
“[Stadium general manager Nigel Skelt] called me in to his office and told me about the plan. It’s an incredibly humbling gesture,” Frew said.
Skelt felt the renaming of the stadium was the right way to honour such a popular Southland sporting identity.
“This is Wendy’s home and she’s played all of her netball here since day one,” Skelt said.
“She’s been a fantastic role model, not just for netball but sport in general across the province and New Zealand, so we think this is an incredibly fitting tribute for the dedication, work and loyalty she’s always shown our community.”
While much of the lead up to the play-off game in Invercargill has and will continue to focus on Wendy Frew’s swansong, Frew herself is not ready to say goodbye.
Lose on Wednesday night and it will not just be Frew’s last game at ILT Stadium Southland, it will put a fullstop on her time playing for the Steel altogether.
Win on Wednesday and the Steel will advance to the ANZ Premiership’s grand final against the Central Pulse in Palmerston North on August 12.