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.

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