Topsy-turvy final ends as draw

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Joint champions . . . Valley Gold and Waitaki Girls’ High School Lightning Strike players were all celebrating after a 28-28 draw in the North Otago premier club netball final on Saturday.

Well, you know what they say – everyone is a winner on the day.

That was the case in the North Otago premier club netball final on Saturday when defending champion Valley Gold and Waitaki Girls’ High School Lightning Strike battled to a 28-28 draw.

There was some confusion in the crowd, and a few mutters about the rules, but the trophy was shared by the two teams.

Some form of extra time is now virtually standard in all sports – and surely it will only be a matter of time before North Otago netball changes its format – but neither side was complaining on Saturday.

For Valley, winning a third straight title capped a remarkable unbeaten season, and was reward for a gutsy comeback in a final that earlier seemed lost.

And for the schoolgirls, sharing a championship was recognition of their strong finish to the season and a relief after falling short in the 2014 and 2015 finals.

Valley player-coach Petra Aspros said her players were aware the title would be shared in the event of a draw at fulltime, and she had no problem with that.

“It’s nice, when you pull it back like that, to at least get a draw,” Aspros said.

Valley took an early 2-0 lead but was second best for large chunks of the rest of the game and wasted a lot of possession.

Waitaki Girls’ led 15-11 at halftime and by as many as seven goals in the third quarter, and it took an inspired Valley comeback to get it back to 21-20 heading into the final quarter.

“They came out firing and we probably weren’t totally prepared for that,” Aspros said.

“A win would have been great but for us to pull it back to a draw was amazing.”

Valley goal keep Briar Wilson, after a relatively subdued first half, exerted her influence on the game in the latter stages, and Nicky Wallace and Sarah Newlands provided good support.

Mikayla Cleveland showed plenty of energy in the midcourt, and while goal shoot Kara Cox did not shoot as accurately as she would have liked, she grabbed a lot of second chances.

Waitaki Girls’ built its excellent performance around a smothering defence and some silky skills in midcourt.

Caitlin Judd and Kate Lawrence showed some classy touches in the middle, while Izzy Hurst battled away tirelessly in the circle.

“I think our youthful exuberance sort of took the first half, and then their [Valley’s] steady experience did the job in the second,” Waitaki co-coach Georgie Salter said.

“We were in plenty of winning positions but couldn’t quite finish it off. But that’s OK. The kids will learn a lot from this game.”

Salter did not exactly endorse the rule abut a drawn final but was not complaining either.

“It felt weird, being a draw, because you’re so used to pushing for the win.

“But it doesn’t really matter. We’re still winners, and it’s just the way it is. I’m happy.”