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‘‘It’s just great to be back.’’

North Otago Netball president Sonya Macdonald says she could not have asked for a better start to the junior and senior netball competitions, which began last Friday and Saturday respectively.

‘‘It was just so fantastic to see everyone back walking through the gates and, you know, the buzz and the enthusiasm and the laughing that was had by all — it was just so great to see,’’ Macdonald said.

The junior and senior competitions have been devastated by rain cancellations and Covid restrictions over the past two years.

It had been particularly tough for the junior players, and Macdonald said the committee thought the disruptions might have pushed some families to walk away from netball.

But switching the junior competition to Friday afternoons, from Saturday mornings, seemed to have been a good move. There were 48 teams entered this season, and the courts were packed for the opening round last week.

‘‘To see them all coming back in and so enthusiastic about playing netball again and being a part of it was just so heartwarming to see,’’ she said.

‘‘All courts, the full nine courts, were fully playing.

‘‘We haven’t seen that in quite a few years.’’

The senior competition got perfect weather for opening day — and the North Otago Netball committee would keep ‘‘praying to the weather gods’’ that would continue, she said.

Players across all senior grades ‘‘hit the court running’’, which was impressive after such a long break between games.

‘‘I can see across all sections it’s a tough competition, which is good because it means everyone turns up every weekend ready for a good game of netball.’’

In Premier A, there were the obvious strong contenders — Maheno Green, Valley Karaka and Athletic Maroon claiming the opening round points — but Macdonald expected it to be a closely fought competition.

‘‘Once some of those new combinations get going it will be really interesting to see how the season goes. It’s exciting.’’

The North Otago Men played St Kevin’s last Thursday, winning 49›28.

Tomorrow, Waitaki Girls’ High School Lightning Strike takes on Valley Karaka at 10am, Kurow A comes up against Athletic Maroon at 11am, Waitaki Girls’ Wildfire plays the North Otago Men at noon and St Kevin’s A will battle it out against Maheno Green at 1pm.

ATHLETIC MAROON V WGHS LIGHTNING STRIKE
Final score: 34-20 to Athletic
Quarter scores (Athletic first): 9-7, 13-15, 24-18, 34-20

Athletic Maroon laid down an early marker to its rivals on Saturday, recording a 14›point win over Waitaki Girls’ Lightning Strike.
The Athletic team worked well together, players all supporting each other in their first outing, and showing strength on defence throughout the court.
The young and new›look Lightning Strike was competitive throughout, matching Athletic almost goal for goal in the first half and showing glimpses of what it will be capable of this season. A few unforced errors on attack in the second half allowed Athletic to create runs and extend its lead, but the schoolgirls will take some good learnings from their first encounter of the season.
Tupou Kautai, playing at goal defence, was a standout, as was goal attack Emily Mavor, both playing their first season in Premier A.

MAHENO GREEN V KUROW A
Final score: 42-18 to Maheno
Quarter scores (Maheno first): 8-5, 17-7, 29-12, 42-18

Maheno Green started strong, lifted the intensity in the second quarter and kept it up for the rest of the game to coast to a comfortable win over Kurow A.
Kurow kept the pressure on in the first quarter, trailing by just three goals at the first break. But the floodgates opened in the second quarter, Maheno going on a nine›goal run and restricting Kurow to just two goals in 10 minutes.
Maheno’s attack was slick, and wing defence Anika Smith made a welcome return, combining well with Maheno’s defensive unit of Melissa Smith (GD) and Philippa Masoe (GK) to create plenty of turnover ball.
It was a tough first outing for Kurow, which was missing a few players from its starting line›up. But Jaime Archer (C) and Jessie Chapman (WA) worked well in the midcourt and it was a good opportunity for the club to test out some of its new combinations.

VALLEY KARAKA V WGHS WILDFIRE
Final score: 34-25 to Valley
Quarter scores (Valley first): 13-6, 20-12, 30-17, 34-25

Valley Karaka came out firing in its first clash of the season, impressing in the first three quarters against Waitaki Girls’ Wildfire.

New recruit Lauren Haeppauff made an immediate impact on debut for Valley, creating lifted ball at wing defence and working well with the team’s new defensive unit of Lisa Fenwick, India McLay and Izzy Hurst.

Valley’s new shooting pairing of Helena Johns and Brytnee Firman also stood out, both putting up a good volume of goals, showing strength under the hoop and creating great space for each other.

Wildfire found its feet in the second half, shifting the momentum and putting a lot of pressure on Valley throughout the court.

The schoolgirls went on an eight›goal run to win the final quarter, and restrict Valley to just four goals, but left the comeback a little too late.

Goal attack Renee Stenning and goal defence Jorja Belt were the best players for Wildfire.