Valley Karaka pulled off a fourth quarter fightback to beat Maheno Green 31-29 in a thrilling North Otago premier netball final on Saturday.
Down by three goals heading into the final quarter, Valley Karaka player-coach Rihi Schultz said her side dug its way back to win the Jessie Allen Trophy through “sheer determination and just wanting it so bad”.
Valley started the game strongly, forcing Maheno into errors and taking the first quarter 9-6. Valley had another run in the second quarter to extend its lead to seven goals, but Maheno clawed its way back with some impressive team defence, and was within three goals of Valley at halftime.
“We had a good start and I felt like we were in a position where we could’ve kept going,” Schultz said.
“But this year … Maheno really punched through.”
The third quarter was all Maheno’s, and it went into the final quarter with a three-goal lead. Maheno’s Hayley Lawrence had an outstanding game at wing attack, Schultz said.
“She just got so much ball throughout the whole game, really times,” she said.
Missing Nicky Wallace from the defensive circle, Valley was forced to switch up its combinations – Schultz moving to defence, Kara Cox moving up to goal attack and Valley Koru’s Katherine Tongotongo coming on at goal shoot.
“We had that up our sleeve. We’d practised that – we knew that was the other option,” Schultz said.
Valley lost a few balls on attack in the final quarter, but players kept their heads up to win back any turnover ball – and midcourter Mikayla Cleveland’s commitment was especially evident until the end, Schultz said.
“Every time that ball was lost, there were no heads down, dwelling on mistakes,” she said.
“Everyone just worked hard as a team to get that ball back.
“That was key in that last quarter.”
Maheno still led the game with a few minutes to go, and it was an epic country clash until the end.
“That’s how you want to see a final, definitely,” Schultz said.
“I love finals like that. It’s what you play for.”
Schultz singled out Cox, who had stepped up as a leader in Valley’s shooting circle this season, for special praise.
Playing at goal attack for the first time in a final, Cox combined well with Tongotongo in the final quarter, remaining calm under intense pressure from Maheno defenders Mel Smith and Philippa Masoe.
Valley has plenty to celebrate this year. The club’s rugby sides won the Citizens Shield and the president’s grade final – and now the netball team has followed suit.
“It meant a lot,” Schultz said.
“We just wanted to finish on a good note and do it all together as a team, for the love of each other.”
After a winter sports season like no other, Schultz was looking forward to celebrating Valley’s success at the club’s prizegiving tonight.
Quarter scores (Valley first):
9-6, 16-13, 21-24, 31-29