From Njube to Surrey—Kwangwa’s story

Growing up in Bulawayo’s Njube suburb, Zimbabwe netball team captain Felisitus Kwangwa never really liked sport.

BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE

If anything, she was forced to play netball by the teachers while she was in Grade 5 at Mtshede Primary School simply because she was tall.

Since then, she has grown to be a stalwart in the Zimbabwe national team, The Gems, and a fortnight ago she made headlines after two-time English Super League champions Surrey Storm made her their final signing for the 2021 season.

The 25-year-old goal defender had a scintillating 2019 World Cup campaign with the national team in Liverpool where she scooped player of the match accolades.

Kwangwa also led the competition in deflections and was sixth for intercepts as Zimbabwe were named team of the tournament.

After a couple of performances at the global event, Storms coach Mikki Austin was smitten and immediately made her move for the player.

But Zimbabwe’s world ranking stood between Kwangwa and the biggest move of her netball career.

“Last year during the World Cup I met (Mikki) Austin, the Surrey Storm coach, and we exchanged contacts because she was interested in me. But she was hoping that soon after the World Cup, Zimbabwe was going to move up the rankings to a better position so she could sign me,” Kwangwa said in an interview with The Sports Hub.

“We were 13th before the World Cup and I could only be signed if Zimbabwe was in the top 12 countries, but was unfortunate it was not to be despite our brilliant performance.

“I think some of the teams, which were ranked just above us went to play another tournament soon after the WC so Zimbabwe couldn’t make it to the top 12, but rather dropped to 14th place. “Austin then said she would keep a close eye on me and just wait for our world ranking to improve.

“Thank God, in 2020 this happened and the deal was made, but this time around I didn’t have direct contact with Mikki. I went through an agency, Step Out 7, so that is how the move came about,” Kwangwa revealed.

Surrey Storm were Super league champions in 2015 and 2016 while they sat eighth in the 10-team league after four games before it was abandoned due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The former Correctional Queens star will link up with Aussie Leah Middleton and Northern Ireland international Niamh Cooper in the Storm defence.

While Kwangwa sees this as a door to other top leagues in the world, she is keen to help transform Surrey Storm into super league champions.  

“One of my targets here in England is to make sure that my team will be crowned the champions in the super league. I also want to make sure that I play well so that I keep on branding myself in order to attract the attention of top clubs from the best super leagues in the world,” she said.

Kwangwa could not hide her joy at the move that will see her compete with some of the best netball players in the world.

“I feel very honoured and at the same time grateful about this move in my netball career. I think that this is easily one of the biggest achievements so far in my netball career.

“It’s something I have dreamt about since I started enjoying the sport as a little girl at Mtshede. “So for now I think my dreams are beginning to come true though I think I still have a lot more to achieve in my career.

“I just want to be one of the best players in the country and also in the world at large and I hope in a few years’ time I will manage to fulfil my dream,” she said.

The Zimbabwe netball captain also took time to reflect on how her journey in the sport started.

“My netball journey began in primary school at Mtshede where I was forced to play by the teachers there because of my height. “That time I was not even a sports kind of person.

“The big journey for me started around 2011 when I was selected into the young Gems after the Youth Games. In 2014 I made it into the senior team and I have not looked back since,” she said.

Apart from Correctional Queens, a team she had been playing for since 2016 until the time of her England move, Kwangwa also featured for Freestars and Khami Queens.

Kwangwa reckons her move will trigger a mass movement of Zimbabwe Gems players into the top leagues in the world.

“I believe this (move) means a lot not only to me, but also to the Zimbabwe netball fraternity. I think from this I might have encouraged a lot of girls and at the same time I know there are some players that are going to follow me soon or next year either coming here to England or even Australia.

“I believe there is so much talent in the Gems team. The only thing that we have been lacking is exposure. now that we were able to showcase ourselves at the Netball World Cup, I believe we are going to participate in more international competitions unlike in the past where we only played at regional tournaments,” she said.

Memorably at the World Cup, Kwangwa faced 2,08-metre Sri Lankan goal shooter Tharjini Sivalingam, but composed Zimbabwe ran out 79-49 winners.

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