Emotions ran high at the North Otago netball finals day on Saturday.
Waitaki Girls’ High School Wildfire beat Maheno 41-19 to win the North Otago premier club netball title and as captain Kira Mortimer accepted the Jessie Allen Trophy, she paid an emotional tribute to the late Georgie Salter.
Salter had a long association with Waitaki Girls’ High School netball – she was at the helm for a remarkable stretch from 1995 to 1999 when Waitaki reached, and often won, the final of the South Island secondary schools tournament. She was still coaching Waitaki teams, and mentoring others, with daughter Rihi Schultz while receiving cancer treatment last year.
Salter died in November.
“This year it’s been really hard for Waitaki netball without Georgie, but she would’ve been part of today – I know she was watching us today,” Kira said.
Wildfire and Maheno came into the final hitting their top form and the game lived up to the hype as both teams played with huge intensity and passion.
Wildfire shot out to a 10-5 lead at quarter time and kept the pressure building all game.
Coach Steve Ross said his side came with the intention to play clean, hard netball, and the schoolgirls displayed a level of maturity well beyond their years.
“Wildfire . . . took the game by the scruff of the neck early on in the first quarter,” Ross said.
“[It] really took it to the Maheno side who, at times, were unable to play through the intense pressure that was being applied.
“[Wildfire] did not give an inch, nor did they drop in intensity throughout the entirety of the match, which made life difficult for the Maheno side.”
Wildfire was at full strength for Saturday’s final, but, over the course of the season, 26 players took the court for the Waitaki team as it struggled with injuries and illnesses.
Maheno yet again came away as the bridesmaid, but coach Carmen Brenssell said she was proud of her side for making two back-to-back finals, having been back in the premier grade for only three years.
But the day belonged to Waitaki and Brenssell gave credit where it was due to the schoolgirls, who played a “flawless game”.
“Waitaki Girls’ came to play and displayed a lot of passion behind their win,” she said.
“Maheno never gave up gaining a lot of turnover ball, but just couldn’t get the ball through the hoop to even contest the score line.”
Emotions also ran high as North Otago Netball farewelled the Fifita family – Tevita, Api, Taneisha, Maikale, Losa, Kiseki – who are moving to Invercargill at the end of the year to support Taneisha as she takes up her contract with the Southern Steel.
At Saturday’s prizegiving, North Otago Netball development officer Abbey McKenzie thanked them for their contribution to local netball.
Through Taneisha’s performance for the Southern Steel, North Otago netball had been thrown into the spotlight, McKenzie said.
“It has inspired and showed our netballers that coming from a small centre doesn’t stop you from reaching your goals,” she said.
Salter had also recognised the talent of Taneisha, Maikale and Losa and in an effort to help develop their skills, among other North Otago talent, the district began attending age group championships.
“Now, four years later, we have a strong national programme that continues to grow each year,” McKenzie said.
North Otago Netball would “forever be indebted” to the Fifita family and McKenzie wished them well for their future in Southland.