Winning start to the season for Southern Steel
After leading from start to finish, the Ascot Park Hotel Southern Steel opened their 2018 account with a well-merited 55-47 win over the SKYCITY Mystics in Palmerston North on Sunday.
Opening the first of Super Sunday’s three matches in heralding the start of the 2018 season, the Steel, despite the loss of key personnel in the off-season, delivered a business-like and accomplished first-up outing.
The southerners welcomed back inspiring captain Wendy Frew, who got through 30 minutes to prove her return to elite level action after a successful comeback from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Mystics goal attack Jamie Hume was lining up against her former team for the first time.
After spending much of the match on the back foot, the Mystics finished with a flourish, salvaging some pride when wining the last quarter to halve a 15-goal deficit.
Both teams showed patches of rustiness in the opening exchanges but it was the southerners who settled the quickest in getting away to a flyer.
The Steel shooting pair of Te Paea Selby-Rickit (goal attack) and 1.93m rookie Jennifer O’Connell quickly found their groove. After notching the first four goals of the match, there was no looking back for the lanky pair who were presented with a bounty of opportunities.
Receiving a high volume of possession, the rapport between the pair continued to develop, Selby-Rickit providing expert guidance to her young partner as the Steel built a healthy lead and a measure of dominance.
Let down by a lack of cohesion and accuracy on attack cost the Mystics the chance of keeping the score in check as the Steel raced out a 17-8 lead at the first break.
While the Mystics found more flow on attack with livewire midcourter Elisapeta Toeava showcasing her silky skill-set, the outcome through the second stanza was a repeat dose of the first.
With neither team making any changes, the Steel continued to grow in confidence, the steady hand of Selby-Rickit being mirrored by her sister Te Huinga Reo and Abby Erwood in the defence line. The defensive pairing provided the Steel with a host of extra opportunities through their ability to pick of intercept and rebound ball.
Midcourters Gina Crampton and Shannon Francois delivered a precision service to the Steel shooters while the Mystics struggled with their consistency and accuracy, mixing the positive with a high turnover count, the southerners pushing on to consolidate a handy 32-21 lead at the main break.
Making multiple changes for the restart did not detract from the polish, the Steel making four changes of personnel, including the relatively inexperienced Olivia Bates, Dani Gray and Courtney Elliott, without missing a beat.
Mystics captain Anna Harrison, with seven gains, two intercepts and two rebounds, and her talented young defensive partner Michaela Sokolich-Beatson were industrious toilers under the hoop but couldn’t stem the flow of Steel goals where Selby-Rickit continued to play an influential hand.
It was another extended margin for the Steel when they took a healthy 44-29 lead into the last break.