Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty 1 took out the inaugural NZU23 netball championship title with a thrilling 47-46 win over the South Zone team in Wellington on Thursday.
In an encouraging sign, it was evident that the future game is in safe hands, the young and classy finalists turning on a fitting spectacle of fast-paced and exciting netball.
With three ANZ Championship players in their mix, South were the more experienced but Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty’s fighting spirit held them in good stead throughout.
With the teams level-pegging at 13-all at the first break, Waikato Bay of Plenty twice marched out to handy leads, the creativity of goal attack Kendra Falefitu opening up the spaces for Brooke Leaver under the post as they propelled their team to a handy 27-22 lead.
Young midcourters Nadia Loveday (wing attack) and the inspiring play of New Zealand Secondary Schools co-captain Samantha Sinclair (centre) ensured Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty were always in the contest, cool heads and patience required when working the ball through the experienced South defensive wall of Stacey Peeters, Phoenix Karaka and Storm Purvis.
When they got it right, South were explosive on attack but lacked the consistency to stamp any real authority, Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty doing an excellent defensive job of stalling their momentum.
A change in their midcourt coincided with Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty going completely off the boil after halftime, South swooping at the opportunity to get back into the contest.
With captain Gina Crampton inspiring with some slick feeding from the pivot’s role, tall shooter Te Paea Selby-Rickit responded under the hoop, a threatening South looking to impose themselves.
Waikato Bay of Plenty steadied the ship with the re-introduction of Sinclair, who had been substituted at halftime but it was South who went to the last break with the momentum and a narrow 39-38 lead.
In a nail-biting final quarter, the result remained in doubt until the final whistle as the teams went toe-to-toe, play swinging back and forth as one team then the other looked to put their seal on the match.
Young defender Jamie-Lee Price entered the fray for the final quarter, teaming with her New Zealand Secondary Schools co-captain Sinclair. The two 17-year-olds presented a pair of wise heads as Wintec Waikato Bay of Plenty finally got over the line in the frantic closing minutes, both teams having their opportunities on the back of a rush of turnovers.
South proved the more accurate shooting side but Waikato Bay of Plenty eventually prevailed on the back of winning the possession stakes.
``That’s given me a few more grey hairs,’’ a relieved Waikato Bay of Plenty coach Mary-Jane Araroa said afterwards.
``Credit to both teams, South came out strongly and they played exceptionally well also.
``I’m really proud of my girls, they stuck at it. We had a mix of inexperience and experience and this is going to be huge for them and their futures.’’
Mainland claimed third place after winning a close contest with Northern 1 58-56.
The U19 title also proved an evenly matched clash, Auckland 1 finishing strongly to overcome a gallant Wellington 34-32.
Playing 10-minute quarters in this age-group, the smaller Wellington team made the running for most of the match, leading 10-7, 19-14 and 25-24 at the respective breaks but were overpowered by the fast-finishing Aucklanders in the run home.
Auckland defenders Shekynah Clarke and Maraea Tipene eventually got the upper-hand over the shorter Wellington shooters while goal attack Meretini Fuimaona proved an accurate cog under the post for the northerners.