Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pulse bring victory down to 20 second 'wire'

Last night's close victory to the Central Haier Pulse against the West Coast Fever came as an exciting relief to very partisan fans in the TSB Arena. Pulse had just lost their ball at the goal circle. Fever were due their centre pass and the score 53-52.  Fever had about 20 seconds in which to score - quite achievable for such a classy team. The whistle went and suddenly 'Hu' - Te Huinga Selby-Rickit - whisked away the ball from the Fever centre pass. The crowd were roaring, and the Pulse very carefully (although nearly not precisely enough) passed the ball around, before a sudden bullet pass to shooter Caitlin Thwaites. By then it was too late for the Pulse shooters, the Fever or anyone else. The very close-fought game was over and the Pulse victors by one shot, and freed from the bogey of "extra time".

The Pulse began erratically. At times they showed commendable skill in careful and dexterous passing; at other times they just squandered the ball. No one player was responsible; it was a joint effort. However, in saying this, it is also important to recognise the achievements of the Fever. They have wonderful centre court ball carriers in people like Shae Bolton, Ashleigh Brazill and Verity Simmons. The first two in the early stages were having issues with the different style of New Zealand umpiring, and a high penalty count mounted. Also Eboni Beckford Chambers and Josie Janz (before she left court)  in defence made scoring difficult, while the effective shooting team of Caitlin Bassett (31/32)and Catherine Cox (18/20) defied strong Pulse defence to keep scoring. Kate Beveridge scored 3/3.

Apparently Robyn Broughton gave her team a pep talk at half time, and the Pulse improved. Goal attack Donna Wilkins had a superb game shooting 25 from 25, and provided a much needed inroad to the circle for shooter Caitlin Thwaites (28/33). When Wilkins couldn't pass, she turned and shot - a perfect shot every time. Wow!  Liana Liota did deft pin-point passing into the circle, while Camilla Lees improved after a ragged start to feed effectively. Circle feeding defenders such as Lees and Bolton for the Fever, have to watch over-zealous defence doesn't result in shooters being advanced to take the shot. Katrina Grant retrieved some excellent ball for her team. However, turnovers didn't always result in conversions, to everyone's frustration. Pulse must improve on this.

The second half was much better for the Pulse. For a time they soared ahead. However, with wily Fever opponents, goal advantage can disappear like lightning. Errors and infringements can cost dearly, even when you're not entirely sure what these are for. In one case I opted to postpone judgment until I got home and saw the Sky feed, but the "infringement" still remained unfathomable to me. However, refereeing such a fast game, with a very partisan, noisy crowd; along with player comments do not make the referees' job an easy one. One end with a male referee seemed to heavily penalise defensive players of both teams; the other female referee also upheld the rights of attackers to a smooth shot, but with less whistle. The referees' experience must have been torrid, as they looked grim afterwards. But they were an important part of a very enjoyable (though nerve-wracking) game.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Pulse victory (63-48) fast, high-scoring game.

Last night's game by Haier Pulse against the Mystics was fast and edgy, showing excellent defensive depth within the circle by both sides. At the beginning, the Mystics' Julie Corletto and Jess Moulds made in-circle feeding into a tortuous and skilful affair. The Pulse had to bend, dodge, feint and whisk the ball through  to secure possession and goal-score. Hamish Bidwell in this morning's DomPost indicated that the Pulse were 'barely tested' by the Mystics. Because of the awesome defence played by both sides in the goal circle, including Katrina Grant and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit for the Pulse, I cannot say I agree with this view.

Bidwell cited Joline Henry as not feeling the pressure of "the whole thing" for the match duration. Perhaps this was because there was ball squandered on the mid-court by both sides. It remained a pressure situation, but perhaps it is pressure that brings on 'brain fades'. All players on court were susceptible to this, with even the most experienced taking optimistic punts that didn't come off. However, the Pulse's Liana Leota played a sparkling game apart from the odd error.

There was a lot of physicality on court and some of it unnecessary. Perhaps it was a measure of the frustration felt by the Mystics, when a couple of young players seemed to focus inordinately on contacts including involvement of the face and head of the opposition. Penalties inevitably followed. They need to concentrate on better co-ordination and dexterity.

Cathrine Latu was introduced to goal shoot in the second half, and for a short time the Mystics improved. That was until Grant and Selby-Rickit got her measure, along with a whole-team defensive effort in the centre court. You could see the Pulse were making the passage of ball down court really difficult for the Mystics. Perhaps it has become second nature for the Pulse to impose stranglehold defence. As an audience member it was a pressure-filled and thrilling game particularly in and around the circle, but also on the occasion when a rock-solid defence effort by the Mystics was overcome through 'bolts' straight through to waiting shooters. Mystics' shooters Bailey Mes in the first half and Latu in the second were also ready to receive such bolts until Pulse defence tightened up. Kayla Cullen and Grace Rasmussen had some talented passages of play. Tutaia's capability to score goals from distance is a real strength, but her team failed to gel.

So Pulse you did well. You can do better yet, but last night was very promising indeed. Taking the lead at every quarter is an excellent way of asserting your determination. Cherish the ball, and defend to the hilt as you did last night! Thanks for the great game.

The unsung heroes who didn't play - Paula Griffin, Amber Bellringer, Victoria Smith, Claire Kersten and Daya Wiiffen - also seemed match-fit if prior-match  practices were anything to go by. Griffin's goaling accuracy pre-match was impressive.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Pulse - and Mystics - starving themselves by reducing goal attempts

The Pulse were defeated soundly in last night's game, scoring 30 goals to the Vixens' 52. Their particular Achilles heel was the very low proportion of attempts at goal (40 to the Vixens' 68), and Pulse shooters' reluctance to have a go. There were a few warning signs from the week before when Caitlin Thwaites who played a great game then, nevertheless dithered on the shot a couple of times. But it wasn't just Thwaites; I think Donna Wilkins managed to get only one goal in the third quarter. Vixens' defenders Bianca Chatfield and Geva Mentor reduced the flow of ball into the very tight circle. In the end it was Thwaites who was benched rather than Wilkins, but by then there were only about nine minutes to go.

Paula Griffin came on at that point, and managed to shoot four from six attempts at 66%. Griffin was unable to take her first shot; a commentator blaming this on a foot over the line, while I thought "Step" was uttered. Either way, Griffin came on impressively in a game already lost, seemingly coping competently with the tight Vixens' marking. According to Hamish Bidwell from Stuff, coach Robyn Broughton is reluctant to use players from her bench unless things get really desperate. If this is the case, it's a bit hard perhaps not just on the bench, but on those players who need time off to regain composure, and for the suffering scoreline.  The ANZ competition also provides players with a chance to improve and show off their developing skills. Victoria Smith and Daya Wiffen have produced some great defensive play recently in their own right. When the attack failed to fire beyond seven shots a quarter, surely replacing either of the shooting duo would have reignited things at half-time. Donna Wilkins seemed to stress out at some umpiring decisions. Griffin is a former Silver Fern who has never been utilised as much as she should be. At her best she is very good. 

Pulse captain Katrina Grant in particular, along with Te Huinga Selby-Rickit had a tremendous defensive game despite stiff opposition from Tegan Caldwell, Karen Howarth (during the first half) and then Sharelle McMahon. If not for Grant and Selby-Rickit, the score would have ballooned. Liana Leota seemed to pick up more penalties than I thought she deserved, and it is the calls that bewilder that really underline morale. Leota is just such a fantastically versatile and athletic player. However, the game's over and the Vixens performed superbly. The umpiring at opposite ends seemed a bit uneven, and New Zealand clocks' three seconds don't seem to tally with Aussie ones. This is something all Kiwi teams need to watch out for.

Another timely warning would be when teams curb their chances at victory by minimising their goal attempts. This is something both Mystics and Pulse did yesterday. The Mystics' Cathrine Latu is accurate but is simply not putting up enough shots at goal. Last night's game between the Mystics and Canterbury Tactix won by the latter at 61-57 saw Latu going to a lot of effort to shoot from close in. It's a good thing it wasn't a trans-Tasman match, or the penalty count would probably have climbed even higher. At the other end, one can only say "WOW" to the impressive shooting duo of Joanne Harten and Sophia Fenwick. Anna Thompson and Jade Clarke in the centre court and Jane Watson on defence also performed slickly. The difference between the Tactix and the Mystics was that the Tactix worked fluidly as a team. While there are outstanding players in the Mystics, they didn't always seem to follow through on the calm advice given by their coach. However, it was good to see Kayla Cullen resuming a more overt defensive role. Elisapeta Toeava and Jess Moulds also played well, and Bailey Mes came on to shoot convincingly in the last part of the game.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Pulse score one-goal victory over Magic

Tonight's closely fought 53-52 battle between Wellington's Haier Pulse and Kia Magic in the ANZ netball competition showed the Pulse have the precision and ball skills to play very fine netball when it counts.

Like the earlier fixture between the Adelaide Thunderbirds and Queensland Firebirds in Queensland, Australia, just one goal separated the teams at the final whistle. At times during the first half it seemed as though the Pulse effort was flagging. But with plenty of determination - not to mention a noisy crowd willing them on - they managed to be within a goal of the Magic at half time.

The Pulse's Camilla Lees played a blinder at centre, confident in getting and passing ball for her side. Liana Leota is always a vital connection for the Pulse, reigniting and reapproaching when the ball gets bogged down. She runs twice as far as many players around her, and has a remarkable jump and gift at strategic ball placement. At goal, Caitlin Thwaites was also impressive, although on a couple of occasions she hesitated to take the shot. With capable Magic defenders like Leana de Bruin and Casey Kopua ready to pounce (and sometimes push),  this was perhaps understandable. However, Thwaites and Donna Wilkins provide formidable shooting quality in the circle, against a very physical opposition. Well done! Katrina Grant at the other end, and Te Huinga Selby-Rickit were the end defensive effort of a concerted team defence. As Joline Henry was absent the role of wing defence was taken capably by Victoria Smith in the first half, and Daya Wiffen in the second.  Their work helped to cement a very creditable team effort by the Pulse. While the match was not error-free, it was a considerable improvement on the previous week's. It was a deserved win for the Pulse, and the loyal Pulse fans around me loved it!

For the Magic, Ellen Halpenny improves every week, and is unafraid to take shots at goal from far out. When it was too difficult to get the ball into Irene van Dyk this occurred frequently. Halpenny is a blooming talent in the Magic side. Both sides played great netball up and down the court, but the best team won on the day. Go the Pulse!

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Unfathomable umpiring call a concern in ANZ competition

If ever there was justification for a fresh look at umpiring, last night's call against the Pulse's Katrina Grant was that justification.

True, the Pulse had plenty of opportunities to win the game earlier, and made too many unforced errors all through court. But shooters Caitlin Thwaites and Donna Wilkins scored well, with adept feeding by Liana Leota. Te Huinga Selby-Rickit and Grant defended with flair. Unless the TV feed lied in the last seconds of the 4th quarter, Katrina Grant took a clean intercept. Cathrine Latu then (it seemed unnecessarily) bumped into Grant, and next the umpire(s?) penalised Grant for pushing Latu in the back. I have watched the game tape over and over. If anyone should have been penalised , it seems Latu should have been.  But by then the game would've been over; a narrow squeak victory to the Pulse. Instead the game went into extra time.

The Mystics went on to win 69-68. At least the game was positive for them. Gifted defender Kayla Cullen, has usually been given the centre role when she's a natural defence player. The last part of last night's game saw her relocated to wing defence, with Elisapeta Toeava at wing attack and Grace Rasmussen at centre. Maria Tutaia's facility to shoot from distance was also handy, while defence work by Julie Corletto throughout the game, and Jess Moulds in the latter part cemented a good Mystics effort. This combination performed substantially better than we've seen so far this season. Perhaps we might even get to see Bailey Mes sometime.

I think there'd be a bad taste in the mouth though for those who saw the televised link, or were close enough to see what occurred. Perhaps netball should do what high-level hockey has done and institute a system whereby cameras are reviewed for contentious decisions. It was obvious that Grant was trying to put her case briefly to the umpire. Umpiring is a difficult job, but the netballers and their fans deserve an explanation of some kind, especially since players themselves are not allowed to comment. There has to be some kind of appeal system in a situation like this.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Pulse snatch victory from formidable Steel

Last night's match between Pulse and Steel was a close-fought battle resulting in Pulse's victory by three goals (59-56). The Steel played with effective connections and teamwork, feeding the ball efficiently to their shooter Jhaniele Fowler, who at 1.98 metres tall proved an excellent target. The Pulse, however, seemed to lose connections and teamwork displayed in previous matches in their first half.

At the break, and into the second half, the score continued to rise for Steel, who displayed excellent defence and composure. The Pulse insertion of Joline Henry into the game initially failed to impede the rate of Steel goals scored. However, the Pulse did settle after a timely time out, and with Henry's court presence seemed to gain confidence, and find good connections with each other. Henry is very competent, but the Pulse must retain confidence in each and every player on court. They were playing as individuals, and failing to treasure ball and opportunities provided by their defence. Throwing 'bombs' and hoping is not sound technique. There didn't seem to be the same team belief in each other that the last games have reflected.  A Pulse supporter sitting alongside me who desperately wanted a Pulse  win, reached a stage where she didn't want to look. As the seconds ticked down in the last two minutes, she gained the courage to look and enjoy.

Two players gave great hope though: Te Huinga Selby-Ricket on defence at one end of court and the catching and shooting of Caitlin Thwaites at the other (89%) helped by the indomitable Donna Wilkins (93%).  Selby-Ricket is in great form, with timely interceptions at crucial stages. Camilla Lees also showed vision and precise ball skills. Errors are still too common, but the Pulse additions to score in the last quarter reflected greater team belief and composure.

So things came together in the end for the Pulse. The unfortunate Steel were classy opponents, but their sound preparation and teamwork await recognition on another day. Theirs was an impressive whole-team effort, with close defensive marking especially in the first half. Jodi Brown at goal attack is forging an excellent combination with Fowler (both 90%), while Sulu Tone-Fitzpatrick and Rachel Rasmussen defended competently. Centre Phillipa Finch had a great game undeterred by an accidental elbow to the eye.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Pulse triumph over Swifts

The Pulse game last night had it all; determination, deft passing (usually) and an unstoppable determination to score their first victory of the season (Pulse 55; Swifts 49). A fiercely vocal contingent of Pulse supporters egged them on every step of the way.

The supporters celebrated when turnovers occurred, they relished every goal and they roared and rhythmically clapped when a fierce Pulse defence in latter stages impeded passage to the goal as the seconds spun out. A smiling neighbour remarked in the tumult "Poor Swifts".

Wing attack Liana Leota was everywhere,  superbly aerial and feisty. She was a game-maker; a person who re-initiated when things were bogged down; an infusion of unstoppable energy. When a defender stood over her she leaped to pass, as she soared again to successfully retrieve unlikely looking ball. This morning's photo of Leota in full flight in the Dom Post symbolises her and the game. The Swifts connected effectively until the last quarter, when ball to their shooters became very restricted. The Pulse hung on, defended the space, delayed and made goal scoring extremely difficult for the embattled Swifts. Susan Pratley and Carla Dziwoki  (87% and 88%) are accurate and talented, but ball to them was severely impeded. Swifts centre courters including Kim Green and Mo'onia Gerrard are formidable foes, but the Pulse held and delayed with skill and resilience. It was like a superbly choreographed modern dance of blocks, twists and turns.

The Pulse showed determination and precision, mixed with composure. When composure diminished, errors crept in on both sides, affecting all players however talented. Perhaps this was a measure of the frenetic pace of the game. These little errors though in a closer game could have been match undoers.

Caitlin Thwaites for the Pulse was incredibly impressive scoring 30 from 32. Donna Wilkins fed ball capably to Thwaites, and scored 25 goals from 27 attempts. Goal defender Te Huinga Selby-Rickit competently defended and intercepted, while Victoria Smith was a capable wing defender. Camilla Lees managed some very tricky threading in to the shooters demonstrating patience and flair, despite spirited defence from April Letton and Sonia Mkoloma.

Captain Katrina Grant, who despite knee bandaging continued to battle strongly as goal keep, and coach Robyn Broughton, should be very happy with their team. The Pulse supporters certainly were. Well done! Knew you could do it!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Magic champions pushed out by Fever

The Fever recorded a fast-moving victory against the Waikato-Bay of Plenty Magic this Sunday afternoon 57-51. Fever goal keep Eboni Beckford Chambers was MVP on the day, but the game was won on the centre court as much as in the goal circles.

Quite different interpretations of contact by Australian referees were given in today's game seemingly in contrast to New Zealand refs' contact calls. This affected player safety. Irene van Dyk suffered more than her share of being pushed into, around and out of Court by Fever defenders. There was no doubt that  Beckford Chambers showed excellent technique in halting goals by her great standing jump, but van Dyk particularly, was not often allowed any room. She had to call time when she was literally unable to breathe. Worse, New Zealand shooters  attempting to hold a position incurred penalty after penalty. It seemed as though contact was permissible if a player kept moving around, jostling and pushing within the three foot range. However, New Zealand shooters attempting to hold a near proximity position to goal were penalised by contact calls despite shooters having ball in hand. Although van Dyk justifiably complained about contact and danger within the circle after the game, it was also a feature of centre court. Fever's mid-Court netballers displayed brilliant passing, but serious injuries may occur if intercept attempts are made so close to fast-moving players. It seemed more like attempts to pluck ball from a player's hand rather than true intercepts.

Undoubtedly the Magic were slow to adjust, but is so much contact - and potentially dangerous play - going to become the norm? It's not like the Fever victors don't have oodles of great technique, athleticism and fast, efficient teamwork. Magic sorely missed Jess Tuki in its centre court, and Leana de Bruin and Jess Waitapu had to leave court because of injuries. Magic's defenders frequently had no answer to the swift passing of Fever's attackers to shooters Caitlin Bassett and Cath Cox. Bassett and Cox performed admirably, able to concentrate on their role, because their centre court players were so adept.

Ellen Halpenny had a great game for the Magic scoring 32 from 42 goals, with van Dyke being held to 17. Halpenny did seem to counter the penalty counts with her beautiful runs to the goal. Well done!

Perhaps it would be timely for refs from both sides of the Tasman to gather together and look at the videos of this game. Perhaps some of the rough stuff is unseen by the refs, but it's getting worse. Last time they consulted, it seemed as though they said the differences weren't too great. But the margin on what is acceptable seems to be widening.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Drawing the line at shooting from the hip

How do you view Laura Geitz's getting aggressively hippy in the Firebirds v Haier Pulse match to the detriment of Donna Wilkins?

As a spectator, I heard the boos, but was seated too far away to know exactly what had occurred. But seeing the televised cover, there was no doubt that Geitz's behaviour deserved a bit more than an ordinary penalty. First a hip shove, and then a seemingly deliberate hip into the back, after which Wilkins fell to the floor in pain. 

While over-reaction isn't desirable, as netball has become a very physical game, there's a big difference between a collision in the air with two players eying the ball, and deliberate cannoning into a person in a very confined space. I recall Temepara George - as she then was - being ordered off court for repeated breaking at the centre pass. Surely Geitz's conduct was far more dangerous.

Refs have a difficult time of it. Perhaps they didn't see what happened in those fleeting moments. But the location of the injury, and the fact it was a second blow from the hip should have resulted in a dangerous play call, and  time out for Geitz. Perhaps lineswomen are required to assist refs in these circumstances.

In a game as closely fought as this, if Geitz had been removed for a couple of goals, it could have made a real difference to the score. If team members were aware that such behaviour could result in removal, then they might be a little less inclined to let fast and loose with such aggression. Technique has to count for something. Geitz is brilliant technically when she's at her best, but this was bizarre.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Nail-biting Haier Pulse v Firebirds on Monday night

It wasn't to be missed for anything! Monday night's clash between the Haier Pulse and Firebirds was riveting to the dying seconds of the match. Pulse lost by two goals 56-58, but they fought right to the end. The atmosphere in Te Rauparaha Arena was electric. The players too were very switched on and aware.

From the start the Pulse were focussed, sharp and precise (except for a few errors). You can't try anything dicey near Laura Geitz; she'll scoop it up every time with aplomb! But as a Wellingtonian I felt very proud of this well drilled and sharp Pulse team. The game was incredibly tight, with thorough marking and the need to thread every successful pass deftly. Millie Lees at her best is skilful on the goal edge. My husband noted that athlete Liana Leota was everywhere. Leota constantly provided re-ignition, re-attack and dynamism (like former Silver Fern's Temepara Bailey's aerial, dynamic play). Goal shoot Caitlin Thwaites, and Donna Wilkins were usually deft recipients, and accurate shooters, despite close marking and the odd shove!

I watched the video later, after attending the Te Rauparaha Arena game with my husband. It gave a slightly different perspective, particularly with Temepara Bailey's measured analysis. She suggested that the Pulse  begin by turning the ball over before it got to Romelda Aiken, and shutting Natalie Medhurst down early. By the end of the first half Bailey noted that the Firebirds' ball to Romelda was much too easy. This didn't go unnoticed by the spectators at the Arena either. The man next to me was treating it as a personal insult. Bailey noted that the Pulse had started well, and she felt they were not taking the same steps to prevent easy  ball entry that we'd seen earlier. The video seemed to confirm this.

It is an issue, and not one just for this game. The West Coast Fever in their match against the Mystics in the weekend had an easy time of bullet passes to another tall goal shooter, Caitlin Bassett. The Fever were incredibly impressive, and gelling beautifully as a team. The Mystics had no answer to stopping or delaying her. Yet in the past she's been removed from play by other teams because she just couldn't get the ball. Even Irene van Dyke in her time has had her output considerably reduced by prior strategising and teamwork.

So perhaps the Pulse should have just kept on with their initial defence response. Joline Henry must have been itching to be on Court as wing defence, though defenders Victoria Smith and Daya Wiffen performed valiantly. Maybe the Pulse's Te Huinga Selby-Rickit, who was outstanding in the first half, and highly athletic captain Katrina Grant should have continued the strategy of marking the space in their attacks on Aiken. It worked well in the first and much of the second quarters. Perhaps the Pulse could have swapped the goal keep and goal defence around. Wing defence Wiffen attempted to shadow Natalie Medhurst as well in the fourth quarter. But by then Medhurst was frequently unstoppable in her speed and delivery to Aiken. The Firebirds' confidence was up, and they carried the day. Kimberley Ravaillion ,Chelsea Pitman and Demelza McCloud were others who stood out for the Firebirds. The Firebirds and Pulse were impressive because they fought as real teams; perhaps that's a reason why the results were so close.

You can do this victory thing Pulse! Try to get into the last quarter at least on an even keel. We always believed in you; just believe in yourselves. This closely fought match was a brilliant one to watch; make sure the next one is brilliant in terms of both watching and winning.