Education Policy | Post Primary | Preschool | Primary | Tertiary | Search


Why This Athlete Switched The Volleyball Court For The Rugby Field

Wintec master’s graduate and volleyball star-cum-rugby player, Stacey Niao has made this year’s Farah Palmer Cup Canterbury squad.

A volleyball star from Kawerau has switched the volleyball court for the rugby field. Stacey Niao (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa), a Wintec Master of Human Performance science graduate, is now a rising talent in the Canterbury women’s rugby scene who was selected for this year’s Farah Palmer Cup (FPC) Canterbury squad.

This is a change of scene for Niao, who has spent much of her sporting career playing volleyball both in New Zealand and in the United States.

Niao’s introduction to playing rugby was almost by chance. During her master’s studies at Wintec, she worked with university rugby players in strength and conditioning. When a coach she was working with encouraged her to head along to the next Waikato women’s university team training session to observe what they were doing, she joined in there and then.

“I went along to watch their fitness and see how they move. I ended up joining in at training and then I played a few games for them during my studies,” she says.

After moving to Christchurch for work, Niao played club rugby for the university and this year made the Canterbury squad for the Farah Palmer Cup, which is the highest-level domestic women’s rugby union competition in New Zealand. This year the team are pursuing their fifth straight title.

“It’s pretty massive. There’s a bunch of Black Ferns in the squad. We’ve got Chelsea Bremner, Kendra Cocksedge – for me to play alongside them is pretty cool,” Niao says.

Niao, who completed her undergraduate degree with a volleyball scholarship at Illinois State University, returned to New Zealand to complete her master’s study at Wintec in 2018 after her US visa ran out.

A self-confessed ‘competitive’ person, Niao has spent most of her life playing volleyball and other sports at a professional level, but after completing a Master of Science (Human Performance Science) in exercise physiology and strength and conditioning at Wintec, she developed a love for coaching and youth development.

“My master’s study was based around youth athlete development. I started in the master’s programme not really knowing what I wanted to do, just knowing I had a strong interest in strength and conditioning,” says Niao.

Her supervisor, Dr Peter Maulder, a Wintec academic at the Centre for Sport Science and Human Performance, guided her in the direction of youth athlete development, a space he said was growing, especially for female athletes.

Heading to Illinois, United States, straight after finishing high school at Kawerau College, Niao experienced an “epic” level of sports, unlike anything she had experienced in New Zealand.

“It’s a huge step up. College sport over there is just next level. We played in a stadium that seated over 10,000 people, and was used for just volleyball and basketball alone,” she says.

A career highlight for Niao in the US was when their team, Illinois State University (ISU), won the Missouri Valley Conference. They also made it to the second round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament, something ISU had not achieved since the 1990s.

Niao then worked for a couple of years in high performance sport in San Diego, returning to New Zealand with the hopes of attaining her master’s degree here then returning to the US.

After she finished writing her thesis however, a job opportunity came up at University of Canterbury (UC), running their high-performance centre sports academy. The role was only part-time, but the opportunity was right up Niao’s alley, and she bit the bullet, accepting the role and moving down to Christchurch.

If there’s one thing that’s obvious, it is that Niao loves sports and competing, and the pursuit of those has opened doors for her throughout her career.

“If you really enjoy something, stay around that area. I just love sports, I enjoy all aspects of it, and I don’t silo myself to one sport, or one thing,” she says.

© Scoop Media

Culture Headlines | Health Headlines | Education Headlines


Howard Davis: Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman'

The Guardian needed not one, but three reviews to do justice to Fennell's unsettling approach, which indicates exactly how ambiguous and controversial its message really is. More>>

Howard Davis: Jill Trevelyan's Rita Angus

Although Angus has become one of Aotearoa’s best-loved painters, the story of her life remained little known and poorly understood before Jill Trevelyan's acclaimed and revelatory biography, which won the Non Fiction Award at the Montana New Zealand Book Awards in 2009, and has now been republished by Te Papa press. More>>

Howard Davis: The Back of the Painting

Painting conservators are the forensic pathologists of the art world. While they cannot bring their subjects back to life, they do provide fascinating insights into the precise circumstances of a painting's creation, its material authenticity, and constructive methodology. More>>

Howard Davis: Black Panthers on the Prowl

A passionate and gripping political drama from Shaka King, this is an informative and instructive tale of human frailty that centers around the charismatic Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, who was murdered at the age of twenty-one during a police raid. More>>

Howard Davis: Controlling the High Ground

Stephen Johnson's raw and angry film not only poses important questions with scrupulous authenticity, but also provides a timely reminder of the genocidal consequences of casual bigotry and xenophobia. More>>

Howard Davis: Dryzabone - Robert Conolly's The Dry

After the terrible devastation caused by last year’s bushfires, which prompted hundreds of Australians to shelter in the ocean to escape incineration and destroyed uncountable amounts of wildlife, The Dry has been released during a totally different kind of dry spell. More>>

Howard Davis: Hit the Road, Jack - Chloé Zhao's Nomadland

Nomadland is perhaps the ultimately 'road' movie as it follows a group of dispossessed and disenfranchised vagabonds who find a form of communal refuge in camp sites and trailer parks after the economic contraction of 2008. More>>



  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Auckland