Montana Heslop, 17, is backing herself to make the New Zealand women's sevens rugby team in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Photo Jacob Page.

Montana chases Olympic dream


Montana Heslop is not a teenager who lets things get in the way of her dreams.
The 17-year-old former Waimea College pupil moved to Wellington on Friday to attend the New Zealand Institute of Sport and improve her chances of realising her Olympic dream of playing sevens rugby for New Zealand.
Montana is fresh off her second campaign in the Tasman women’s sevens team at the national championships in Rotorua – which is no mean feat considering she needed special dispensation both years because she is under the 18-year-old age restriction to play in the tournament.
Montana has taken a big step towards the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
“There’s a group of us who got selected for the Go for Gold initiative.
“From there it’s a two-month training block and from there 25 are contracted for the next 12 months.”
Fellow Nelsonians Jess Drummond and Risi Pouri-Lane were also talented-identified for the squad after also taking part in 2016.
“I started playing rugby when I was five for Wanderers, mainly because my brother played it,” says Montana.
“I was never a girly-girl, I played netball but it wasn’t enough – I wanted more physicality.”
Montana also tried hockey, gymnastics, sprinting and cross country. She got back into rugby when she started at Waimea College in Year 9.
So passionate is she about the sport, she offered to coach the Waimea girls’ team in Year 10.
She moved to Motueka High School for term four of that year so she could compete at the National Secondary School rugby competition.
She made the tournament team three years in a row at the Oamaru Rugby Festival 15s tournament and has been driving women’s rugby at Waimea College school.
The hard-working teenager admits to being worried about what will happen to her school team now she has left, but she is hopeful several Year 13 girls will keep it going.
Montana says watching Jess make the sevens team for the Dubai round of the world circuit last year gave her the inspiration to keep chasing her dream.
“Between Jess and the three Tasman guys who made the men’s team this year for the Wellington Sevens, it’s proof that you can make it from this region.”
She says her move to Wellington will make things easier in terms of opportunities and being noticed,
Young players will form for camps on a regular basis and she says there is a close working relationship with the Manawatu, which means she will be exposed to a higher level of talent on a regular basis.
Montana will be part of the NZIS rugby academy and she says she has one thing to work on above all else.
“Fitness is the key,” she says. “You can always be fitter for sevens.”