Abbey McKenzie is keen for the North Otago under-19 netball team to have another crack at one of the toughest tournaments in New Zealand.
North Otago finished 17th at the national under-19 championships in Wellington last week.
The young team lost all four of its pool games but then won all three of its games in post-section play, beating Mainland Combined 43-36, Pukekohe 31-28 and Selwyn 40-37.
McKenzie, who coached the team alongside Kate Taylor, was “really pleased” to finish the tournament in style.
“The team had come together really well by that stage.”
Games against netball powerhouses Waitakere and North Harbour earlier in the week had been an excellent gauge of what the North Otago players could expect at the top end of the tournament.
“They were pretty much double our size and really well-drilled,” McKenzie said.
“But you look at halftime and third-quarter scores, and they weren’t bad. The scores blew out a bit as we chopped and changed to give everyone a taste.
“The biggest thing all the girls talked about was just how strong you have to be at this level. Strong to the ball, strong bodies – you just can’t take anything for granted.”
It was a rare appearance at the national championships for North Otago, and McKenzie is eager to go again next year.
No fewer than seven of the team are under 17, and the entire team is still eligible for under-19 level in 2018.
“If we went again, they’d have that belief straight away, because they’ve experienced this tournament before.
“You know, we lost to Harbourside by five and they ended up 11th, so top 10 is not unrealistic. We might be small but we’re also skilful.”
McKenzie said all 11 players in the squad performed well.
Among the leading players were Taneisha Fifita, who tasted life in the Beko League this season, and tireless defender Nicole Lowen, who never stopped grabbing intercepts.
Hannah Johnston stepped up in a leadership role, Molly Kay proved a consistent link at goal attack, and Molly Hurst – just 15 – provided one of the individual highlights when she played a full game against North Harbour and shot 100%.
The only down side to the tournament was the wild weather near the end, forcing radical changes to the team’s transport plans for the return to Oamaru.