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The North Otago netball season makes a welcome return tomorrow. Rebecca Ryan and Kayla Hodge check in with the clubs battling it out for a place in the premier grade.

ATHLETIC

With new players and a new coach, Athletic Maroon has had a bit of a shake up this season.

Karen Metherell joins the club as the premier side’s head coach, returning to the fold after a few seasons away.

Athletic president Kim Lyttle said Metherell brought a wealth of knowledge to the side.

She was one of many new faces joining the club, including shooter-midcourter Rachael Leohau.

Several past players had returned to the club, including Jess Kerr who was back after injury.

“The team’s quite different this year. It’ll be interesting to see how the season goes,” Lyttle said.

A captain was yet to be named, but Lyttle expected it to be stalwart Renee Webster.

KUROW

Kurow is back.

After Covid-19 delayed the start of last year’s netball season, the country club was not able to field a premier team.

“This year, we’re looking forward to getting back into that 1.1 competition and hopefully doing well in it,” player coach Anna Haugh said.

Four players from the club’s 2019 premier team have returned, and there are four new players.

Steph Voice and Jane Mulholland will provide plenty of experience in the defensive circle and the new shooting combination of Ashleigh Fenwick and Jessie Chapman had been working well at training, Haugh said.

Players were all looking forward to getting out on the court and playing “hopefully in a Covid-free season”, Haugh said.

A captain was yet to be named.

MAHENO

After being runner-up for four seasons in a row, Maheno is detirmined to shake the bridesmaid tag .

And with a large number of talented newcomers at the club, head coach Carmen Brenssell is confident the two premier teams’ time has come.

“Both teams [Maheno Green and Rebels] I think are quite strong this year, so it’s looking very exciting for the season ahead. We’ve just got to put it on the court now, instead of the paper – this is our fourth year in a row trying for the title,” Brenssell said.

Brenssell was coaching Maheno Green, with support from Briar Wilson. The team had attracted a high calibre of players this season, including newcomer Ella Brown, a former Southern Blast player. While Brown was injured at present, she was a huge asset for the club and for North Otago netball, Brenssell said.

Hannah Johnson and Sarah Lindsay were also key gains.

Maheno Green was bolstered by its experienced campaigners Suzy Oakes and Kathryn Kawau, and would be led by captain Mel Smith.

Maheno Rebels made the step up to premier netball for the first time last year, and Brenssell believed the team – coached by Wilson and Becky Taylor and captained by Tara Watson – would push for top four this year. Jenna Wylie and Caidee Pennycook were combining well in the shooting circle.

Both teams were strong defensively, and there was great depth across the club, Brenssell said.

ST KEVIN’S COLLEGE

It is a rebuilding year for St Kevin’s College.

But coach Rachel Fowler is hopeful there is enough talent coming through to give the school side a good chance this season.

Five year 11 players were selected in this year’s A team – and they were all showing good potential, Fowler said. In particular, Olivia Mavor and Zaria Kira, from last year’s 1.2-winning SKC White team, were exciting young talent.

Last year, St Kevin’s A lost to eventual champion Valley Karaka in the semifinals, but beat Valley Koru 39-35 to finish third.

Despite losing quite a strong group of players, this year’s team still had experience throughout the court, Fowler said. Souness sisters Tegan and Tessa would team up in the shooting circle.

“That should be a good combination for us,” she said.

Tegan and Jasmine Emery, who were named as talented players in last year’s Otago Southland secondary schools netball tournament A grade, would co-captain the side.

VALLEY

A new season has called for new teams at Valley Netball Club.

After years of having players spread across Valley Karaka and Valley Koru, formerly Valley Gold and Silver, the club’s management decided to split the teams into youth and experience this season.

Valley Karaka – the defending champion – would boast the youth, and a vastly different line-up from previous seasons.

Kara Cox, Mikayla Cleveland and Nicky Fisher will provide the knowledge for the side, and the team has also been boosted by mid-courters Brianna Sandri and Celia Van Kampen. Sandri and Van Kampen had outstanding seasons for Koru last year, and would be major assets to Karaka, coach Rihi Schultz said.

Koru was made up of Valley’s more experienced players – including Petra Aspros, Kara Tartonne, Kate Macgregor, Leeanne Mavor, Fiona Dunnett, Sarah Newlands and Schultz.

The changes allowed the new Karaka players to rise through the ranks, and they deserved the opportunity, Schultz said.

“We’ve had really good young players coming through Koru and they’ve just been performing .. [we] decided it was time to give them the opportunity to step up to the top team and get their chance at having a go, hopefully, at the title,” Schultz said.

Koru had long-standing connections through its stalwarts, but the change also let the players focus on their lives outside of netball.

“It’s a great opportunity for these older, experienced girls to play with a little bit less pressure,” Schultz said.

“It’s nice to go out there and have fun as a team, but not have that pressure of competition’.”

The change was positive for the Valley and highlighted the continued depth the club had on offer.

Mikayla Cleveland and Nicky Fisher will captain Karaka this season, and Sarah Newlands would lead Koru.

WAITAKI GIRLS’ HIGH SCHOOL

With a high turnover of players, school teams are faced with the challenge of rebuilding at the start of every season.

But that was what made school netball exciting, Waitaki Girls’ High School coach Steve Ross said.

“No-one actually knows what to expect from us. We’re bringing something different all of the time,” Ross said.

Year 11 players made up the bulk of the Waitaki Girls’ Lightning Strike and Wildfire teams this year. Diana Fonua, a year 10 pupil, had also been pulled up for Lightning Strike, and was making a big impact in the defensive end.

“They’re all talented girls, it’s just getting that experience under their belts at the top level,” Ross said.

Brylee Milmine and captain Meadow Neill would be anchoring the Wildfire team, while Milly Matthews and Kaitlyn King would be providing the experience for Lightning Strike. Year 11 player Emma Fox was captaining the Lightning Strike team.

“She’s stepped up to the leadership role, she’s doing really well,” Ross said.

Both teams had been training well, but Ross was looking forward to seeing how they handled coming up against other clubs tomorrow.

“We’re playing all right against each other, but when you put them against the older ones, what are they going to be like?

“That’s the challenge, and they’re all going to be up to it.”