By Hugh Maclean
It was with a great deal of excitement and optimism that the girls of the South boarded the Boort bound bus to play this year’s Interleague fixture. Coach Mel Aitken had prepared the team well and they felt ready.
There was next to no knowledge of what North Central would throw up to play against it. Experience of Interleague battles past had led team management to think that they would probably be faced with a side taller than theirs, but the team decided to focus on their own strengths. Though short on height, the South were able to field a side that was fleet of foot and slick of ball movement.
As it happened the locals appeared to be more like the South than they had expected, meaning that the match would be a shootout between teams of similar styles. What ensued gave Southern a sense of satisfaction to know that they more than held their own, but disappointment in that a positive result was not forthcoming.
The first quarter was an even affair: Southern on the scoreboard first, North Central replying. The cut and thrust continued until North Central got the first small break in the middle of the quarter, with the local attack threatening to tear the game apart with their deadly shooting accuracy and nimble footwork. Southern restored parity late in the quarter at 9-9 as Leah Seeto started to find her range, but North Central proceeded to net the last four goals of the term to go to the first break 13-9 to the good.
Two moves were made at the first change which led to Southern’s best spell of the match. Britt Goldsmith was asked to play off the body of the local goal shooter to counteract her tricky foot movement, and Katie Lindqvist was introduced to the game in the hope that her strength and presence would nullify the North Central wing attack. Both moves worked. North Central were denied the outlet that had served them so well in the first quarter, and as a result the Southern mid-court pulled down intercept after intercept. With Domica Wescombe running riot at wing attack, the South scored the first 10 goals of the second quarter to thrill the small but enthusiastic travelling support. North Central steadied to a degree in the latter part of the term, but it was the South that went to oranges with a 21-17 advantage.
Whatever was in the locals’ Gatorade at half time certainly had an effect. North Central immediately began to run harder than they had in the quarter before, and caught Southern unawares, taking the momentum back from the start and the lead back midway through the third term. North Central’s goal shooter was their League’s best and fairest last season and she showed that this didn’t happen without reason as she shot regularly and missed rarely, while the move of their goal keeper into wing defence immediately bore fruit in providing increased drive from deep in their middle third. Southern appeared to panic and began to push passes that weren’t there to push, and it was North Central that began to intercept regularly to create enough chances to go to the last change ahead by 30-26.
With the game on the line it was vital that the South began the quarter well to give themselves any chance of taking the Cup back to Moorabbin. Two more unfortunate turnovers in the opening minutes however led to the margin blowing out to six, and Southern were never able to wrest back the momentum. The South had their moments – nine goals of their own in the last quarter told that story as the players tired and the game began to open up – but in the end the North Central shooters were too adept at taking their opportunities for the South to hold them to a losing total. A late flurry from the Northerners gave the scoreboard a look that belied the efforts that Southern gave to this fixture, a final result of 45-35 not being reflective of the overall pattern of play.
Make no mistake about it; the girls from the South matched North Central in most facets of the game. Domica Wescombe was rightly adjudged our best player on the day, but all who donned the white, red and blue can hold their heads high. After the race had been run and won, several of the North Central girls remarked that this was the hardest game of netball that they had ever been involved in. That in itself is cause for great satisfaction for the South, and optimism going forward. One more tall option at either end of the court could have made all the difference. There is one thing though that all that saw the game could agree upon; that our League has come a long way in seven years and will only grow in strength as further time passes.