Getting that spirit back - Krysta Hoani and Dr Lara Andrews (Captain), and Roman Gabriel (Head Coach)

Over the last two years, the New Zealand White Sox squad have suffered a drought in international ball following their International Tri-Series in December of 2022. The White Sox have used this time to strengthen not only players' individual skills but also the team as a whole. The wait ended for the wahine, as between the 11th of December to the 19th of December, the squad toured Australia to play ten games and a few intersquad scrimmages. Prior to the tour, we talked to two of our sponsored players, Krysta Hoani and Dr Lara Andrews (Captain), and Roman Gabriel (Head Coach).

COVID-19 has impacted everyone, including the White Sox. Lara says, “We have had a lack of momentum as we went from touring every year for five years to not touring at all. Touring is fun and will help ignite our passion for the international game which motivates us to do what we do every day locally.” Lara sees this tour as “An opportunity to go offshore, play good quality ball and find that love of international ball together. I’m looking forward to getting that spirit back into the team and coaches.”

Team culture is everything, and Kiwis are renowned for the strength of the relationship between players, and between players and staff. Krysta says “We have a squad of 28 heading over to Aussie for this tour with a lot of talented youth coming through so I’m really looking forward to our time away in Australia. We haven’t been together as a squad since our full squad camp in May so coming together again and continuing the legacy for the WSX is something we are all excited about.”

Head Coach Roman Gabriel sees this tour as an opportunity for the White Sox to test themselves, “It’s been a while since we travelled internationally. Being able to get out of NZ and travel is a bonus. In my opinion, it is very important to get a gauge of where we are at and how much work we need to do before the WhiteSox qualifier. We have not had any opportunities to test ourselves in 2 years so right now we don’t know if we are behind or on track to be a threat come qualifiers.”

Lara has been part of the White Sox since she was 15 years old (2005) and has acted as captain for numerous tours. “As a leader, the biggest difference between this team and previous teams is captaining and leading build up tours, world series, and Olympic qualifier but this time around it has been captaining and leading through COVID which no one has equipped us with the tools to do. Lara admits “I was winging it in a sense with this new environment we have been operating in and have adapted by using Zoom to connect with one another, working with the leadership group, and at regional and national squad camps.” This new experience as a leader navigating through the aftermath of the global pandemic has made Lara change her approach as well. “I’m doing a lot more public speaking at national events, College sports awards, and regional and national conferences on behalf of the White Sox and as Balance is Better Champion with Sports New Zealand. I’ve also invested more time in running regional All Skills Clinics to support the development of our rangatahi. Instead of doing more practical softball, I’m investing more time in promoting the game and developing leadership capability in other ways.”

The two years without international ball have left both players pumped for the tour. Lara says “I’m looking forward to catching up with and reconnecting with everyone, and playing some quality ball in good weather. We’ve worked really hard as a squad with training and strength and conditioning so it’s almost a reward to go away and be able to play ball and get together again. Krysta explains “I’m currently overcoming a couple of small injuries so just trying to maintain them is going to be one of my biggest focuses. I’m really looking forward to travelling with the squad and continuing to take in all the learnings and grow as a player. The White Sox are very lucky to have the management and leadership we currently have, so reminding ourselves to keep putting one foot in front of the other and soak up all of the information that is thrown at us.”

As captain, Lara has goals that she hopes to personally achieve. “This is an opportunity to take time out of everyday life, have some fun with the ladies, play good quality softball and reconnect with the family and culture. It’s also an opportunity to get the leaders together and hone our goals as a leadership group and what we want to achieve and polish.” Lara has also been working behind the scenes to guide the future White Sox captains/leaders, “I have been working on a new document that looks at ‘Leading the White Sox into the future’. I want to reconnect with previous captains and put together a book so that when I leave there is a blueprint for the next group to help guide them as they lead.” Coach Roman’s overall goals for the tour are “To give players the opportunity to play at a higher level as it has been three years without any international games. Even though we are not playing any test matches we will be facing international pitching.” Roman also hopes to “Continue to build on the team culture that we have been working on the last three years.”

As the tour is in the middle of December, the club season is disrupted for the wahine. Krysta explains that “We play our club games right up until the 10 Dec and leave on the 11 Dec for our tour so it looks like we will only miss one round of the NFS Auckland competition, which we will most likely make up in the new year. However, after Christmas normally consists of consecutive tournaments.” Lara notes “Melisa, (Assistant Coach for the White Sox), is also the coach of Te Aroha Softball club team. Alongside that, I and three others are away for the tour, which gives Hutt Valley the opportunity to bring out fresh blood and bring up younger players to fill our spaces.”

The White Sox have a number of things on their horizon, with the World Qualifiers, the 2024 World Series and the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Captain Lara Andrews acknowledges the years ahead, and has the mindset of “Taking it one step at a time and focusing on qualifying for Worlds.”

Both Lara and Krysta have been part of many momentous occasions with the White Sox, and have each had incredible experiences with the team. Krysta’s first experience as a White Sock was singing the national anthem and performing the haka at her first World Series in Canada in 2012. “My most memorable experience would be the Olympic Qualifier in China in 2019. This tournament hit differently, and I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to represent my country. These opportunities don’t come around often so I’m glad I got this experience.” Lara also sees the Olympic Qualifier in 2019 as her most memorable experience. “Being there was a very special moment in my career; the build up was hard and being fit and healthy and feeling strong and confident and capable made me feel like this was a peak. This is where every aspirational athlete wants to be at.”

To those White Sox hopefuls, Krysta and Lara offer advice. Krysta says “Enjoy every minute. There are still so many times that I think back to my early days of playing, and just smile because those moments were special. It was just about playing the game and getting better. Building friendships that will last a lifetime and learning who I wanted to be. It wasn't about stats; no one cared who got the job done. We just wanted to win and have a blast doing it. And man does it go fast, so enjoy it.” Lara believes in taking every opportunity and says “We’ve learned that we can’t take the opportunity to play ball for granted, take every opportunity you can to ball out as hard as you can, take time to master your craft, learn how to play the game well and put in the grind and work hard. Surround yourself with like minded people to help you be the best you can be.”

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