Listen back to the podcast of Sunday's Nothing But Net radio show, featuring SFNL Interleague Coach Mel Starr and Mel Aitken (Oakleigh District FNC) in the player above.
By Hugh Maclean
Southern 39 v Central Highlands 71
Lucy McKeown left home for Lyndhurst on a sunny Saturday morning thinking, “what a great day for netball”. Doubtless her co-captain Jessica Jones, coach Mel Starr and all her teammates thought the same thing. However, once game time rolled around the clouds had rolled in, and this sadly became a metaphor for the scoreboard in the Interleague match against Central Highlands.
It had all started so well. Southern converted the first centre pass through Jones, and an excellent interception from Alana Harris set up Grace Healey to allow Southern an early 2-0 advantage. However, this only served to wake the sleeping Highland giant, and the girls in navy blue began to take a grip on the game that they were never to relinquish.
Central Highlands had stars in every third of the court. Goal keeper Elanoa Costello was brilliant all day, with her reach and athleticism never giving the Southern goalers an easy shot. Her efforts were capitalised upon by a fast, smart mid-court led by excellent captain Kelly Conroy, whose knowledge of when and where to run created space for herself and her cohorts. Once in the attacking circle, Southern had little answer to the tall and efficient shooter Jordyn Bibby, whose apparent inability to miss a shot earned her the medal as the Central Highlands player of the day.
Having been level at 3-3, Southern looked all at sea as wave upon wave of Highland attacks produced a run of goals that created a 9-3 deficit, before Grace Healey broke the chain. A more even last five minutes gave the Highlanders something else to think about but they were good value for their 17-9 quarter time lead.
Mel Starr called for a quicker defensive transition at quarter time, and for the court to be opened up more coming out of defence. Her entreaties seemed to be well heeded as Southern scored three of the first four goals of the second term, before the Central Highlands combinations started working once more, creating a 28-13 lead. It was here that the locals enjoyed their best period of the game, with the excellent Louise Moetu making a difference with her agility at wing defence and Chloe Ballard in the centre making several incisive passes. Jones and Healey were responsible for the next five entries on the scoresheet, but sadly the fun was not to last as the Conroy/Bibby alliance once more gained traction and the Highlanders took a 32-20 lead to the main break.
With Rosie Augl coming into the goal shooter’s position for the first time in the match, Southern were on the board first for the third quarter running but again the Highlanders were not slow in returning serve. Whilst the St Kilda City pairing of Augl and Jones were combining well and, at the other end of the court Britt Goldsmith and Alice Pohlner were not giving the visiting shooters things all their own way, Southern looked to manoeuvre themselves into a position to make a charge in the final term. A late run of goals from Central Highlands sadly put paid to those hopes, with the scoreline at the last change being 47-29.
Coach Starr implored her charges to finish strong and win the last quarter. However, the Highlanders hit the scoreboard first in the quarter for the only time all day and quickly added three more to take the wind right out of the Southern sails. Southern’s cause was not helped by a calf injury to co-captain Lucy McKeown, who had played a solid role at wing defence to that point, but by now it was largely academic. It was noticeable that the Central Highlands passes were still fast and flat while those made by Southern weren’t nearly as sure, and as the floodgates began to open Southern battled to hold back the torrent. All that said, a 71-39 final scoreline in no way reflects the attitude and effort displayed by those that wore the dresses of the South. The local girls never dropped their heads, and fought to the end with a tenacity of which they can be proud.
Whilst Jordyn Bibby was clearly the best player on the court, lethally finishing the forward thrusts created by the Central Highland mid-courters, Chloe Ballard was awarded the title of Southern’s best. Her work rate was a highlight, as was the quality of her passing game. All players can go back to their clubs content in the knowledge that they gave all they had to the league that they represented, and with the benefit of the experience that the match, and preparation, provided.