Monday, 16 July 2012

Magic inspirational on way to finals

Last night's Magic Mystics clash was truly inspiring. The pundits had a narrow victory forecast; I thought myself Magic would be ahead by 4 at final whistle, but the overall 9-goal advantage came from supremely fit, adept and highly skilled netballers. They played at extra time like they had just begun. It was beautiful netball; inspired play!

I failed to understand then the totality of circumstances behind the Magic's  tremendous last minute impetus to win. I had been bewailing their opportunities lost. Just as it seemed all over, the Magic's Leana de Bruin deftly intercepted. Julianna Naoupu failed to convert initially, but Irene van Dyk stepped up for the rebound. She scored, and suddenly the game was anyone's.

Brief shows of excitement gave way to an extra time quarter. Suddenly the Magic swooped with energy, precision and skill on the hapless, fatigued Mystics. The Mystics were ready to win; not to drag the game out for another quarter. But the Magic grasped this as a Heaven-sent opportunity. Perhaps in a way it was.

Why did I think the Magic would win? They have certainly been on a roll. This is their 11th victory in a row. But more cogently, the Magic have been moving and passing with accuracy and precision. Van Dyk is scoring at the level required in top-level netball. Naoupu often complements this. Perhaps it's the successful feeding of Laura Langman and Khao Watts on the circle edge, or the tremendous understanding and interplay possible when your team connects really well.

The Mystics started strongly. Earlier this year they seemed to be going right to the top. Their defenders are great; Maria Tutaia's shooting from the perimeter is first class. But the highly accurate Cathrine Latu is not producing - or being allowed to produce - sufficient goals. It could be a feed issue, a movement issue, or a confidence thing, but in the end it is a team issue.  Look at the statistics: 23/23 for Latu where van Dyk got 35/40. True Tutaia produced more with 25/35, but a shooter's total of 23 will not be enough against the Vixens.

Last night I hoped the Magic would win. They are the best New Zealand side. They feed their shooters; Casey Williams and de Bruin defend to the utmost, and in the brilliant Langman, astute Watts and the superb young defender Elias Shadrock, their mid-court is growing in momentum. It is a whole team effort, and their victory last night was a whole team one.

Sincere sympathy to Irene van Dyke on the occasion of the loss of her mother. Irene is an amazing professional, with magnificent heart. I am in awe at the Magic's whole team response to Irene, and Irene's mother. You played an even stronger hand than probably most New Zealanders were aware of. You were truly awesome - all of you! Although I would have preferred for any New Zealand team not to have to go to  extra time, you have showed that your techniques are so skilfully deployed that they can become second nature, defeating fatigue and sorrowful times. Do the same for Sunday afternoon please!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Pulse find tempo and teamwork!

My daughter gave me tickets to the Monday night Round 8 Pulse v Thunderbirds game, and it was  riveting and fantastic. The curtain raiser showed some proficient netball skills with Tu Toa's aerial performance. However, I have never seen the Pulse play with such commitment, deft teamwork and flair.

Centre Jolene Henry led the charge in the centre, along with Camilla Lees (WA) and Katarina Cooper (WD). Henry is an outstanding defender, and the combined efforts of her centre court managed to supply a good flow of  ball into the shooting circle. Depth of defence then transformed into tenacious attack, both from the circle  perimeter, and even chancy 'long bombs'.

The defensive Te Huinga Selby Rickett and Katrina Grant also showed verve and precision timing, picking up some great ball and intercepts. Grant as usual was sparking on all cylinders, cutting Carla Borrego's shooting scores right down. Erin Bell however, managed to maintain good shooting percentages. However ball supply to the shooters from the usually high-scoring Thunderbirds' midcourt was diminished, despite the skilful play of Natalie von Bertouch.

The second quarter saw a few more sparks. As a spectator within a particularly noisy area of the crowd, we were surprised to see Henry penalised for trying to pass, when Renae Hallinan seemed to directly contact her. This fired up our section of the audience anyway into a very partisan group. The noise was so great it was too hard to tell if that feeling was general, but watching Sky later, perhaps it was.

In the goal circle Caitlin Thwaites was a deft, cool and composed shooter with class, who dodged and evaded the excellent defence from Rebecca Bulley and Sharni Layton. Paula Griffin grew as the game developed. Goal attack is not all about shooting, and Griffin was adept at making and shaping play in the circle with energy and confidence. She consolidated on this vigorous and sustained performance with accurate shooting during the final quarter. Her play was a joy to watch. Well done Paula Griffin!

There were a few silly errors from which no-one on the Court was exempt (except perhaps Grant). But the teamwork was there, with intuitive, deft play and excellent timing. In the last quarter Henry reverted to wing defence, but the strong legacy of her centre play persisted. The Pulse went on to win in the tightest of time margins 47-46. The crowd erupted with joy and stood and high fived and hugged!

Being in the crowd that night was something I'll never forget. The atmosphere was building as the crowd willed all the Pulse players to achieve the potential of which they've always been capable. We roared our encouragement, and they responded with skill, energy and precision. Thanks so much to the team and Robyn Broughton for providing an electrifying and marvellous night out.

Postscript: My daughter handed me the ticket for the match above remarking that the Pulse v Magic game was sold out (and we know who won that.). But any team in the competition would be delighted to achieve what the Pulse managed to do on Monday night!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Is New Zealand over-extended in the ANZ netball championships?

Are the five teams from New Zealand currently battling it out on court financially unsustainable?

If you look at the results to date, our showing is not particularly impressive. However, New Zealand needs to do better in the training and development of its netballers. The Australians have a national academy and training systems implemented. Apparently Government resources are also allocated to sporting venues. New Zealand netballers, on the other hand,  have to make do the best they can. Yet we expect them to be in with more than a fighting chance in the competition.

New Zealand audiences are keen: look at Stadium Southland when the Southern Steel is playing and Porirua's Te Rauparaha arena sold out for the recent Magic-Pulse fixture. The crowd support for netball is all there. Unfortunately this does not seem to be expressed in appropriate national support and funding for these great female role models of New Zealand sport. If there are some part-time coaching schools for national development, Silver Ferns and provincial sides, perhaps these could be doubled in time terms. We need to look at ways and means of making this happen. We cannot expect them to do us proud, without investing in their skills and fitness. Australian teams always look so fit; in a few earlier games some of our teams looked "run-out" before they had even started. Yet the skills are there. Cutting the number of teams in the competition will shave off the potential, without addressing the problem.

Consider the bright spots which we might not have if the competition shrank to four New Zealand teams. Think of the development of such promising athletes as Ellen Halpenny (Canterbury Tactix) whom Liz Ellis enthused about in the recent Firebirds v Tactix game;  Kayla Cullen from the Mystics, Julianna Naopu (and more recently Elias Shadrock) from the Magic. Would all of these promising young athletes have "made the cut" if there were only four teams. Perhaps Cullen had already done enough last year, but I'm not sure about the others.

Pruning out the up and coming athletes which a scale-back to four teams might result in would be a terrible idea anyway if the Magic's dismal showing this year is anything to go by. Here is a team loaded with Silver Ferns, who could not get their act together. I think an analysis of what happened there would be instructive. What did they do that was different from previous years?

The New Zealand media need to do their bit too. Invaders from another planet might well think that women can't do sport, or only in a limited way. We have pages devoted to the games, and training ad nauseum of the Blues, the Hurricanes etc, but not enough devoted to female athletes. New Zealand women have excellent triathlon form (along with the men), but coverage is spasmodic and uncertain.