Now outside the comfort of the school environment, strapping young goalkeeper Caitlin Lafaele is quickly learning the extra demands required in pursuing her sporting dreams as part of Central Manawa in the Synergy Hair Netball League (NNL).

In her first year out of St Mary's College Wellington, which has a terrific record of producing young netball talent, the 17-year-old is finding out first-hand the demands of juggling fulltime study with the pathway the NNL provides in preparing players for the step up to semi-professional netball.

A member of the NZ U21 squad, Lafaele has every reason to keep building on her credentials as she looks to cement a spot in the team for next year’s Netball World Youth Cup in Gibraltar. Making the jump from school netball to the NNL has had its challenges but the teenager is enjoying the opportunity.

"I love it, it's very exciting," she said. "It's a good push for me and is making me lift my standards.

"I feel like I'm learning a lot and it’s all a lot of new stuff which is great and just adding to my experience. It's all making me a better player and just a better person, in general."

And it's not all she's learning, the specialist goalkeeper also grappling with fitting her Manawa commitments in with study where she is working her way through a Diploma in Sport and Recreation, through an opportunity provided by the Wellington Phoenix Academy.

A one-year fulltime course, the diploma is a pathway for students who completed Year 12 and want to enter a tertiary programme that helps them gain University Entrance. It covers a broad range of skills, including coaching, programme and event management, the body's response to exercise, quality service and supervision.

"It covers a lot of areas involving sport and it was all pretty hard to start with but I'm slowly coming to grips with fulltime study and the time required for training and playing with Manawa and learning about time management and those sorts of things," Lafaele said.

Born in Brisbane, her family moved back to New Zealand when Lafaele was seven years old after her mum, an air hostess, switched to working with Air New Zealand.

Playing her club netball for PIC, Lafaele has put a major emphasis on her fitness this season, an area she wants to improve, while embracing the opportunity of regular tough match-play to enhance her skillset.

"My big goal is to keep working hard on my fitness and just to hit that yo-yo (fitness) test as best I can," she said. "And the other thing, is to work on my mental focus in games, so I can adapt quicker to what's going on around me."

Manawa have struggled for consistency this season with the two Auckland teams – Marvels and Comets – getting the early season jump on the rest of the field, the team from the Capital needing a win against Mainland in Round 5 action in Palmerston North on Sunday to get back on track.

"We've been working hard on our on-court connections, having honest conversations with each other and accepting accountability, just owning our own job along with our mistakes," Lafaele said.

"We know what we want and have shown in patches that we can do it, it's just getting that consistency for longer periods."