Valley Gold knows it is going to have to fight hard to win a fifth straight North Otago premier club netball title.
The dominant club sails into this weekend’s semifinals with a clear No1 ranking but the knowledge any of the other three teams could catch fire and pull off an upset.
An intriguing edge to the first semifinal is that Valley’s opponent, St Kevin’s College, is the only team to have beaten the defending champion this season.
That 40-34 win for the schoolgirls came right at the end of the second round, and coach Rihi Schultz acknowledged Valley was punished for its complacency that day.
“St Kevin’s were hungrier and more ready for the challenge and left us in their wake,” Schultz said.
“Fortunately for Valley, it was the wake-up call we needed. We have been much more focused and determined in the second round.”
Valley has had a couple of scares in recent weeks but that was a credit to other teams, which had lifted their intensity, Schultz said.
Petra Aspros – referred to as “the conductor” by her coach – kept Valley on track with her timing and precision feeding into the shooting circle.
Valley had also been well-served by “strong and steady bookends” in the form of newcomers Brytnee Firman (goal shoot) and Shay Frost (goal keep), Schultz said.
St Kevin’s had a couple of speed wobbles in the second round but, as usual, a school team containing so much speed and youthful talent must not be taken lightly.
Molly Kay and Gemma Dowling pop up everywhere, Hannah Cunningham and Connie Metcalfe are building a nice defensive combination, and Laura Preston is a typically energetic wing defence.
The semifinal is a rematch of the final round-robin game, Valley coming from behind to win 31-28 last Saturday.
Recent history suggests the other semifinal could be a blockbuster.
Waitaki Girls’ High School Wildfire and Maheno had a draw in the second round, and Wildfire won the opening-round clash by a single goal.
Maheno, which warmed up for the semifinals with a 39-15 win over Valley Silver, has a clear edge in experience with the likes of Kat Kawau, Melissa Smith and Sonya Macdonald providing defensive intensity and vision, while Suzy Oakes and Nga Yaxley form a solid shooting duo.
Wildfire has produced some consistent results despite battling injuries and the absence, for much of the season, of star Beko League and Steel player Taneisha Fifita.
While Fifita understandably gets the spotlight due to her talent, physical ability and versatility, the key to Wildfire’s fortunes could be Molly Hurst, the jackrabbit at the attack end who leaves it all on the court.
Wildfire beat Athletic 44-28 in its final round-robin game, while fellow Waitaki side Lightning Strike beat Kurow 32-14.