North Otago’s mix of youth and experience paid off at the South Island Senior Championships last weekend.
The team finished third in the new 12-team, three-day tournament in Dunedin, up against some of the South Island’s best.
Each team was allowed one ANZ Premiership player and one Beko League player. North Otago added the services of up-and-coming stars Taneisha Fifita, a Southern Steel signing, and Central Pulse shooter Aliyah Dunn.
In a tough pool, North Otago beat South Canterbury 42-26 and lost to Dunedin Blue 35-37 on the first day of competition, leading to a quarter final matchup against Invercargill.
North Otago won that game 42-36, before losing to Dunedin Gold 37-45 in the semifinal.
Then, in a reversal of the pool result, North Otago overcame Dunedin Blue 42-35 in extra time to secure third place.
North Otago player-coach Rihi Schultz said the result showed how much the side improved over the three days.
At the end of regulation time in the final, North Otago and Dunedin Blue were tied at 34-34.
In extra time, North Otago outscored Dunedin eight goals to one.
“We knew that the girls were playing well on defence and we would get turnovers,” Schultz said.
“We found a lot of the younger teams that had the fitness and the athleticism found us quite annoying that we were so patient.
“We took our time, used our brains and didn’t have to go a million miles an hour down the court – we just retained the ball.”
The results against strong opposition showed North Otago was more than competitive and the tournament gave players who had left school a chance to stay competitive, Schultz said.
“There [are] five mums in our team and we don’t get that intensity of netball as they do in Dunedin.
“There was really cool morale in the group – everyone loved it.
“We had a really great time with a good bunch of girls who gelled on and off the court.”
Fifita and Dunn made the tournament team – and were referred to by the rest of the team as “our Silver Ferns”, Schultz said.
“[Dunn] slotted in great. She is quite a shy person in the media, but amongst our team she got involved – she was great fun and definitely enjoyed her weekend with no pressure.
“We all hope that both will get to that level [Silver Ferns], so that was really cool.”
Mel Smith was the North Otago team’s player of the tournament.
“Her combination with Taneisha was outstanding, so she got our own MVP.”
The South Island Senior Championships format will be continued next year.
“We are stoked. We will definitely be getting involved.