Steely resolve denies Mystics
The resilience of the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel shone through when they upset the Northern Mystics 47-41 at the Auckland Netball Centre on Sunday.
Injury-ravaged after losing two shooters to major injury, the Steel suffered another blow when playmaking Trinidad & Tobabgo shooting import Kalifa McCollin was forced from the court with injury early in the final quarter, further showcasing the southerners’ tenacious qualities.
The adversity highlighted the value of the experienced heads of Shannon Saunders, Gina Crampton, Te Huinga Reo Selby-Rickit and recent ring-in Ellen Halpenny who all helped in coaxing their team over the line with more consistent play than their opposites.
Stoic until the end in notching their third win from the bottom of the table, the Steel also held strong to deny the third-placed Mystics, who suffered their second straight loss, while putting a dent in their top two hopes.
Still establishing their new shooting end, the Steel started with McCollin at the back and youngster Kiana Pelasio at goal attack while Saviour Tui got the start at goal attack in a familiar Mystics line-up.
From the get-go, nothing much went right for the Mystics, the Steel showing all their resolve and trademark pride with a rock-solid outing.
The southerners set the early pace to take a narrow lead while the Mystics struggled for their timing and drive on attack. Turnovers both ways highlighted the opening exchanges but it was the Steel who made the most of their opportunities.
The Steel were handy on attack and defensively slowed the Mystics forward momentum. Centre Tayla Earle was a shining light in getting ball to Mystics shooting weapon Grace Nweke but lacked support as her team-mates continued to produce soft turnovers.
Not always spot-on with their shooting, McCollin and Pelasio, nonetheless, had nearly double the opportunities of their Mystics counterparts to give the Steel a 13-11 lead at the first break.
It was much the same on the resumption with Saunders, Kate Heffernan and Selby-Rickit providing a staunch Steel defensive wall to limit the Mystics options.
Not having their usual tall target under the hoop, the experienced duo of Saunders and Crampton provided pinpoint feeds for the Steel shooters which paid dividends.
Still lacking flow, the calming presence of Emma Iversen was introduced at wing attack for Peta Toeava for the Mystics while another experienced head in the form of Halpenny was injected into goal shoot for the southerners.
It was hard-going at times for the Mystics to make progress through court but once in the shooters’ hands, Nweke and Tui were clinically efficient with returns of 15/15 and 4/4 respectively. But it was the Steel who maintained their edge when leading 23-19 at the main break.
With their confidence growing, the Steel continued to keep the Mystics at arms-length during the third stanza. Trailing by as much as seven prompted the Mystics to make further changes. Courtney Elliott took over from Australian import Emily Burgess at wing defence and a few minutes later Filda Vui replaced Tui.
The Mystics pegged back the Steel’s early impetus to get more ball into Nweke’s hands while both defensive units had their moments in creating turnover opportunities. With Halpenny increasingly finding her feet and combination with McCollin and the suffocating defensive pressure, the Steel ensured the Mystics still had work to do when leading 36-32 at the last break.