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!