By Graham Thomas
As a member of the national team affectionately known as the Sunshine Girls, it is hardly surprising that Jamaican international Stacian Facey is finding a cold and grey January in Cardiff not quite to her tastes.
Not that anyone would have thought the Celtic Dragons’ new overseas signing looked anything but at home when she made an impressive Vitality Superleague debut in Birmingham last week.
Stacian, though, has sacrificed more than just six months of Caribbean warmth to pursue her dream of playing overseas.
Back home in Kingston, her mother is doing some extended babysitting for her six-year-old grandson, KJ, as his mum gets to grips with her first professional contract in the UK.
“It was a big step for me to come to Wales,” says Stacian who will line up at goal defence for her new club for the second time when the Dragons travel to London Pulse on Saturday.
“I was unsure at first because I have a lot of responsibilities back home. I have a handsome little prince – KJ – and it was very hard leaving him.
“I had to process lots of thoughts before I agreed to the contract. How would he be without me? What if something happened to him while I wasn’t there?
“My mum assured that he would be fine with her and I should go away for a little while to pursue my dreams.”
Good on yer, mum. That support enabled Stacian – a bronze medal winner with Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games in Australia last year – to kiss KJ goodbye and hop on a plane to Miami, then another to Heathrow, before Dragons coach Tania Hoffman picked her up and drove her to Cardiff last month.
In little more than 24 hours the 25-year-old had met up with her new teammates and played in a practice match in readiness for last week’s season opener against Team Bath.
At least she is not alone within the Dragonhood. Fellow Caribbean star Kalifa McCollin is a familiar face from U21 and senior matches between Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago and they have competed against each at Commonwealth Games and World Cups.
As for the others, she is getting to know their strengths quickly – both on and off the court.
“The girls here have been great – very welcoming to me. Nia and Kyra and all of them. They are all such nice girls.
“The standard of netball in the Superleague is high but we also have good players at home within the Jamaican clubs. The difference for me is that I get to play against lots of different nationalities here, so that was a big attraction.
“My coach said there was a chance to play in the Superleague. I had just started a new course at college. But I thought this was a great opportunity and I should try and give it a chance.
“It’s a big move. I’m still processing it. I’m not sure about the long term, but I’m definitely here for the whole season.”
Stacian’s athleticism and physicality was evident in the Dragons’ encouraging display against Bath and her value to the franchise – no longer restricted by simply trying to produce international players for Wales – is likely to be more clear as the season goes on.
A basketball and volleyball player before she turned to netball at 15, her aggressive defensive skills are something the team was lacking last season.
Jamaican netball is a rich talent bed and Stacian has been part of a squad who are regularly among the top four nations in the world game.
“Playing for the Sunshine girls is a big thing for me and for my family. To represent your country is the best thing you can do.
“But we have a few players playing here and also in Australia and it’s an adventure. The most time I’ve spent away from home before is a month.
“I have high hopes for the team this season, but we will just have to see how things go.”
Six-year-old KJ is a big netball fan and has taken the adjustment to his jet-setting mum’s absence in his stride.
“I told him I would be away for five or six months and he was like, ‘okay, mummy.’ But I talk to him every day so it’s okay. He’s such a sweetheart.
“My mum has supported me 100 per cent. I just admire her so much for allowing me to do this.”