Awatere’s premier netballers walked out of Stadium 2000 with their heads held high after claiming their first victory in the top grade on Tuesday.
“The Tussock Jumpers”, who have battled away in premiers since the second round in 2018, downed defending champs SMOG 50-49 to create a slice of history for the Seddon-based club.
At the final whistle, the players, who have battled through several promotion/relegation battles to remain in the top tier, threw their hands in the air, hugged and celebrated as if they had won the title.
And so they should have. Their first premier triumph has been a long time coming. Tuesday’s match was their 19th since entering the premier grade in June last year, but they were finally rewarded for their perseverance and hard work, plus the fact some players have to travel long distances to train and play.
Coach Kate Shadbolt admitted that when they were being beaten by 40 goals it was hard to see where the win would come from, but said they never lost belief.
“It’s been really hard to get here but I knew that they were too good to stay in grade one.
“They all gelled as a team tonight … we also wanted to avoid another relegation game if possible, which we may have to yet, but they wanted it more tonight.
“It just shows what the country girls can bring to the premier grade.”
On several occasions, this season and last Awatere have threatened to tip over a premier rival only to turn in a poor quarter or run out of gas in the final stanza.
This time they made no mistake, hanging tough as SMOG levelled the scores with five minutes to play, then went ahead.
As the final minutes ticked down Awatere managed to reclaim the lead and, with some desperate play, hold onto it.
The possession stats strongly favoured Awatere who put up 73 goal attempts to SMOG’s 54, crucial given SMOG’s shooters were on target. A string of turnovers created by the inspired defence throughout the court tilted the balance. Leading the way was inspirational centre Nicole Witterick, while defenders Demelza Terry and Harriet Ryan fought for every scrap of loose ball in their area.
Courtney Ryan at wing defence and Ashleigh Childs at wing attack offered stability and accurate feeding while shooters Tracee Lee and Aimee Jones, despite operating under pressure, landed the goals that counted, Jones especially impressive gathering rebounds.
SMOG were left to rue a string of possession frittered away, especially with goal attack Kate Gaudin shooting at 100 per cent and goal shoot Lucy Barrett not far behind. Bonnie Morris worked hard in defence, along with Katie Cunningham, while Sarah Hammond was energetic and creative in the midcourt.
The night’s other two matches were less thrilling, with wider scorelines and one minor upset.
Marlborough Girls’ College notched a comprehensive 62-50 win over Tokomaru while Pelorus underlined their recent form with a 60-37 victory over Harlequins.
Defenders Olivia Robinson, Oakley Tepuia and Mya Wiapo managed to disrupt the normally slick shooting combination of Haze Tepuia and Gemma Hika, while Anna Gardiner and Taila Town produced a high percentage of goals at the other end. Neve Godsiff made a fine impression when she entered the game at halftime, while Lily Tiueti had another top outing.
Kayla Wilson, Brooke Horton and Gemma Hika were Toko’s top performers.
The night’s final game saw a below-strength Harlequins line-up lose all four quarters to a Pelorus combination beginning to hit their straps.
As was the case in the previous games, one side strongly dominated possession – Pelorus putting up 77 shots to their rival’s 48.
With Olivia Pinkerton and Courtney Taufa on target in the shooting circle the score mounted quickly, while defenders Jalen King and Oriana Houra ensured any inaccuracy at the other end was punished.
Jackson McLaren, Bridget Gane, Maighan Watson and Cathy Kitto stood out in a losing cause.
Awatere 50 (Tracee Lee 11/21, Aimee Jones 39/52) SMOG Good Home 49 (Lucy Barrett 29/34, Kate Gaudin 20/20) Quarter scores (winning team first: 12-13, 15-12, 12-11, 11-13.
Marlborough Girls’ College NZ King Salmon 62 (Isabella Rohloff 4/8, Anna Gardiner 40/53, Taila Town 18/24) Tokomaru Crafar Crouch Picton 50 (Haze Tepuia 35/38, Gemma Hika 15/21). Quarter scores: 16-14, 17-16, 17-10, 12-10.
Pelorus Edridge Contracting 60 (Olivia Pinkerton 27/33, Courtney Taufa 26/33, Paige Lovell 7/11) Harlequins Radich Law 37 (Hayley Marfell 14/19, Cathy Kitto 23/29. Quarter scores: 15-10, 19-8, 12-8, 14-11.
Round two standings after four games: MGC 10, Pelorus 10, Harlequins 9, Tokomaru 6, Awatere 3, SMOG 1.
Tonight’s games: Harlequins v Tokomaru 6.15pm; Pelorus v Awatere 7.30pm; MGC v SMOG 8pm.