Both semis shape as tight battles

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A pair of intriguing match-ups are set for Saturday’s premier club netball semifinals at the North Otago Netball Centre, with little separating the top four teams.

Valley Gold finished the regular season at the top of the division 1.1 standings, followed by Waitaki Girls’ High School Wildfire, St Kevin’s College Senior A and Waitaki Girls’ Lightning Strike.

In what looks set to be a tight battle, Valley Gold takes on Lightning Strike in a repeat of last year’s final, while Wildfire, arguably the most improved side in the top flight after it finished seventh in 2016, plays St Kevin’s.

Wildfire and Lightning Strike co-coach Rihi Schultz said the Wildfire players knew their opponents well and were in for a tough battle against their rival school.

She believed playing smart netball was the key to victory.

“It’s always a bit of a grudge match .. it’s all business once they’re on the court. I think Tivinia Misiloi is quite crucial back at goal keep [for St Kevin’s]. She’s good at confusing the space for feeds into Taneisha [Fifita] so I think it’s the feeders that really have to step up and be smart. They’re really been practising that and trying to use those heads of theirs to beat defenders rather than throw and hope.”

Schultz had been impressed with the side’s work ethic this season and was particularly pleased with the leadership shown by Hannah Johnston and Izzy Hurst, who she said had gone “above and beyond” what was expected of them in terms of leadership on and off the court.

St Kevin’s co-coach Carmen Brenssell expects an even contest and is “really excited” to be playing a Waitaki Girls’ side, which she said was her preferred opponent.

“The schoolgirl netball is .. pretty matched in how they play. Really, it all comes down to us playing our own game, putting the goal through the hoop and just mentally taking charge of the game.”

St Kevin’s has been another big improver this year after finishing fifth in 2016.

“Things have really improved this year,” Brenssell said.

“A lot of them have been together since intermediate school. It’s time to start getting the results out of them, so it’s really exciting.”

Speaking on the chances of Lightning Strike, Schultz said there was not much between it and Valley, the side with which it shared the title last year.

“They have just as much chance as Valley Gold. Lightning Strike beat Valley in the first round by one and in the second round it was Valley by three. There’s very little in it – it’s always a fantastic battle.

“For these schoolgirls, it’s again using those heads to keep in the battle and looking after those feeds into the shooters.”

Valley Gold coach Petra Aspros believed tight defence would be crucial if her side was to topple Lightning Strike.

She said Valley would head into the game with confidence after a fine season.

“It’s been a good season. It’s a close competition and it’s always close between us and the Waitaki Girls’ teams so it will be a big game for our girls. We need to get the ball before it gets to their shooters, so we need a full team defence really. We’re confident but we can’t be too confident.”

Valley Gold plays Lightning Strike at 3.30pm, while Wildfire battles St Kevin’s at 2pm.